09/14/2011 09:27 EDT | Updated 11/14/2011 05:12 EST

TIFF: A Cinderella Tale


In a land far, far away on the east side of Toronto, a nobody dreamed of becoming a somebody.

Her name was Cinderella, so called for the way the subway grime stuck to her clothes every day on her way to work. She spent her weekdays locked high up in an office tower, hunched over a computer, her eyes glazing over. And each year around this time, she would grow particularly melancholic. You see, every September Hollywood royalty would descend upon Toronto for a grand ball -- the Toronto International Film Festival, to which she was never invited.

"How I wish I could be one of the beautiful people!" she bemoaned. "Without paying $300 Double Date Gala Pack, that is." Alas, no commoners allowed -- especially not to the after parties where real-life celebrities held court. And so she continued to toil away and consoled herself by clicking through photo galleries of Ryan Gosling.

Then one day, her fairy godmother granted her a wish come true. With a wave of her wand and a click of a mouse she scored a coveted invitation to the Take This Waltz after party.

"U have to go to this!" she exclaimed via email. "Do you have a glam dress?" Cinderella mentally flipped through the two dresses she had in her closet (one of the prom variety), trying to decide which one was least shabby. "Oh, and don't forget your glass slippers!" the fairy godmother added. Cinderella cringed. Surely after a night spent in cheap Aldo six-inch stilts, her feet would erupt in blisters by the time the clock struck 2 a.m.

Nevertheless, she bravely wedged her feet into the dainty glass slippers and hailed a pumpkin orange and green cab, with her invitation in hand.

Galas like this one at the TIFF Bell Lightbox are strictly for TIFF royalty. Red carpets and velvet ropes said "come in" and "stay out" to all the right and wrong people. The city's socialistas and Twitterati hobnobbed on the rooftop and surveyed their opulent kingdom. Stylists coifed less-than-polished Torontonians unfamiliar with such glamour. Booze flowed freely.

Cinderella was amazed. "An open bar?! It's like a fairy tale!" she exclaimed, drowning her low self-esteem in Stella Artois. After one or two, her feet felt numb. As she rubbed shoulders with hipsters and celebrities, her dress didn't seem so shabby.

Take This Waltz star and Hollywood Prince Seth Rogen mingled with the huddled masses, albeit briefly, as he weaved through the crowd to ascend the staircase, ensconced by security agents.

"I could get closer to these people by watching them on-screen," she thought. Although, she hadn't actually seen the movie - why bother? You can't see and be seen in a dark movie theatre.

As Sarah Polley, actress, director and TIFF legacy, breezed by revellers, the young Cinderella's eyes went wide and she asked the stupidest -- and only -- question that came to mind: "OMG -- are you Sarah Polley?"

"Yes... I'm sorry, I have to go," Polley said politely. "I'm so hungry I could vomit." How glamorous.

And with that, she too climbed the staircase, protected by a stone-faced security guard.

Cinderella spent what seemed like hours staring up at the VIP-only section, watching Very Important People talk about Very Important Things and strike poses for the camera phones. She made polite conversation with fellow party-goers, but rudely looked out of the corner of her eye to spot celebrities -- desperately trying to bask in the regal aura that surrounded them.

Soon the enchantment wore thin. Celebrity watching became exhausting and pointless. She felt pathetic for having bought into the inauthentic magic of TIFF, where glamour and fame took precedence over substance or art. At least Sarah Polley had the right idea -- she just wanted some hors d'oeuvres.

When the beer wore off around 2 a.m., the muscles in her feet began to atrophy, so she hailed a cab, headed back to her East York home and kicked off her glass slippers. They never really fit her feet anyway.