The silence of the lambs

The Toronto International Film Festival officially opened last night with a Canadian documentary, Once Were Brothers, about Robbie Robertson and The Band. But the build-up to the annual affair has been going on for days with a media blitz and pop-up trucks trying out operations in locations around the city. One I saw was fitting, a jewellery company, another was not so welcome, a vaping firm with a backdoor on a enclosed van that you had to be nineteen to enter. I did not go inside but can imagine comfy tub chairs, trial intakes of some nicotine-laced concoction and a sales rep saying how vaping was so much better for you than smoking. Why are such companies allowed to peddle their addictive wares on the street?

The multiple trucks on a closed-to-vehicular-traffic King Street last night had better offerings that ranged from an Air France display where you could sit in a mock first-class lounge to gluten-free Venezualan offerings on corn bread. We saw the Robertson documentary by Daniel Roher, the 26-year-old Toronto-born wunderkind who has done a terrific job of capturing the essence of the group that changed music forever. The 90-minute doc contains powerful footage of guitarist and songwriter Robertson from his early days through his time with Ronnie Hawkins and Bob Dylan to the eventual breakup of The Band. Interviewees include George Harrison, Eric Clapton and Bruce Springsteen but the Hawk delivers the best three or four lines.

Politics briefly intruded when Finance Minister Bill Morneau was among the pre-show speakers at a packed Roy Thomson Hall. He spoke without notes, listed the members of The Band and their birthplaces and received applause on a couple of occasions for his commendations about the importance of the arts in Canada. With an election in the offing maybe it was no surprise that he talked about the contribution the Liberal government has made to the arts over the last four years and was looking forward to making in the next four years. He paused, waiting for more applause from the crowd, but there was an awkward silence. You’d think this particular audience would be eager to support such a promise but they were not. Such reticence may not bespeak a Liberal electoral loss, but it certainly suggests a Liberal victory is not assured.

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