Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Toronto Film Fest and the Fairmont Royal York

The Fairmont Royal York, a meticulously restored grand dame hotel in downtown Toronto, is rolling out a "TIFF and the City'' package for next month's 34th annual Toronto International Film Festival that illustrates the difference between price and value.

The Royal York (, long an institution in Toronto, is offering lodging on its Gold Floor - the name the hotel's parent company Fairmont Hotels and Resorts gives its premier club floors - beginning at $389 Canadian ($357 US), based on double occupancy. The offer, which runs Sept. 13 through Sept. 19, includes a number of add-ons such as two martinis and 10 passes per couple to film festival screenings. The deal is available until Aug. 31 unless it sells out first.

Now, $389 (or $357) and up is not cheap. If you haven't got the scratch, you haven't got it. However, if you are a cinefile, as I am - I was a movie critic at the old San Francisco Examiner for eight years - and if you are a fan of sophisticated big cities, as I am, this offer is good value.

The amenities, which also include passes to the soaring CN Tower near the Royal York, a greeting at the hotel by a Gold Floor concierge and a complimentary continental breakfast, don't guarantee a good time but they certainly help, and the Gold Floor shows off the Royal York - a heritage railroad hotel originally run by Canadian Pacific - to best advantage. Located near Toronto's efficient subway loop and directly across the street from busy Union Station, the hotel is nicely positioned.

Back in the '90s, I covered the Toronto Film Fest (, tel. 416.968-FILM) pretty much every year and watched it grow into one of the most diverse, high-quality film festivals in the world. There are films to suit nearly any taste - the fest screened 312 movies last year, culled from 64 countries - lots of good food at or near the central-city venues where the movies are shown, and lots of opportunities to socialize with fellow cinephiles. I once saw part or all of eight movies there in a single day - not surprisingly, it was too many. But press screenings are free and bouncing from one screening to another can be productive and fun for a writer.

There is a lot of star-gazing at the TIFF, as Hollywood unveils many of its major new features at the fest before they go into theatrical release. Maybe too much star-gazing, actually, though people have fun pretending they're in Hollywood and local media fall all over themselves to cover festival and studio parties - televising them, even - that most people can't attend. That grumble aside, it's hard to fault the fest. It's just very good.

The star of the show is of course, Toronto, itself. Toronto tries to impress visitors with tall buildings and stylish touches, but its real virtues are homey: green, thriving neighborhoods right downtown, good public transport, relatively low crime, easy sociability and a certain vibrancy. Hollywood it's not, but the drear, gray image of decades ago when the town was known derisively as Toronto the Good is long gone.

If you can make it to T.O., film festival time (the fest runs this year from Sept. 10-Sept. 19) is a fine time to go. Heck, the weather is even good, as the hot and muggy summer gives way to the short, crisp Canadian fall with its scarlet maple leaves. I miss the town, I miss the festival and I miss the hotel, where I sometimes stayed on assignment last decade.

If you go, put on those wraparound shades and tell everyone "ciao, baby'' for me.

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