The very first year I produced the live coverage of the Toronto International Film Festival press conferences I met and became friends with one of the truly unique characters in the world of international cinema.
Henri Behar is a fixture at Cannes as the moderator of the press conferences there, and years ago was asked to come to Toronto to reprise that same role here. His knowledge of the craft, and ability to break down a film in minute and accurate detail earned him the respect of actors, producers and directors around the world. I'm no spring chicken and have produced events and shows around the world in my time but it was a real treat to chat to Henri and watch as big A- listers wandered over after the press conferences to say hello to him.
Asking the right questions to get the actors and directors to open up is not easy. Henri is a master at getting the principals to open up. And standing around with him after the pressers had concluded I had a chance to chat with some of the most intelligent people I've ever met.
Forest Whitaker is an exceptional talent and charming person. Russel Crowe is steady and genuine as is director Ridley Scott. The late James Gandolfini was shy and awkward at having to do the pressers but accommodating and professional. Viggo Mortensen a natural linguist who conversed in English, French and Italian with ease.
One time I was having a smoke with Henri in the back of the Sutton Place Hotel (where the pressers took place before they built the TIFF Bell Lightbox) and Colin Farrell joined us. We talked about football (soccer to you and I), and it was all spontaneous and natural. No airs or pretentions. Henri was respected and well liked and I got to hang around with him during work hours.
Daily television and print coverage emphasizes the parties and where the celebs hang out but other than the copious amounts of free booze and food the atmosphere is usually pretentious in the extreme at these things. If you really love cinema it has always been and always will be about the craft.
TIFF began for me as the original Festival of Festivals in the late 70s just watching movies. Later I got to produce and direct some big events and was exposed to all kinds of A listers travelling the world as the producer of Formula One motor racing television coverage. But TIFF is special because it happens in my hometown. And I get to speak to so many cineastes from around the world and it reminds me of Formula One and how I get to use my languages and meet special people like Henri Behar who just love the craft. He is a truly special person. The ultimate insider. And I got to hang with him.
For me, that's the ultimate. Just sharing the love of the whole process. You can have the rest of the peripheral stuff. Well, save me some drinks.