Sunday, September 07, 2008

The schmooze circuit, by Amy Verner - Globe and Mail - 4th September 2008

Festival festivities kick off tonight, but will crystallize at Swarovski on Saturday with the ultimate battle of the bling

Until the Toronto International Film Festival parties get started tonight, this intrepid scenester is in a limbo period, all dressed up and waiting to go. The master spreadsheet has been composed, all access has been secured, each outfit has been roughly planned and friends have come out of the woodwork to offer themselves as my entourage. I can all but taste the Park Hyatt's tray of seasoned almonds, dried fruit and olives - my favourite source of sustenance throughout a week of celeb watching that will take me from Passchendaele at the Drake tonight to the passion of Paris Hilton at Ultra next Saturday.

In the meantime, a few trends are already appearing on this year's film festival schmooze circuit.

The usual battles of the bling will climax at cocktail hour on Saturday night. At the northwest corner of Bloor and Yonge Streets, Swarovski is hosting a prescreening reception for Blindness, a film that isn't exactly easy to watch but makes a crystallizing impact. Meanwhile, a red carpet will be rolled out at the southeast corner of Bloor and Bay Streets for Hello Canada magazine's salute to Hollywood's legendary couples. Birks seems like an apropos venue: Where better to recognize love than in a place that sells diamond rings?

Like a vegetable garden creeping onto the lawn, the greening of TIFF continues. The Royal Bank of Canada soiree on Saturday night is to honour Robert F. Kennedy Jr. in support of the Waterkeeper Alliance. Think organic noshing, Bullfrog Power and greenery in lieu of flowers.

Gift suites, the freebee bonanzas at every festival, also have an eco bent: the It Lounge in the Windsor Arms Hotel features organic cotton Fila T-shirts emblazoned with "f-words" such as "fashionista" and "freedom" in addition to Teva shoes with soles made from recycled tires. Kate Hudson, who's in town for the Virgin Unite Event, will be enlightening the press on Wildaid, an organization that raises awareness about trade in endangered-species products. And then there's Greenhouse, the pop-up bio boîte at 99 Sudbury Street that arrives via New York and touts eco-friendly design materials and 360 Vodka. No doubt attendees at the Playboy Party chaperoned by bunnies Shannon James and Roxanne Dawn will be thanking Mother Nature.

If any businesses stand to gain from the festival, it's restaurants that get no respect throughout the year. Empire and Sopra are two Yorkville-area locations that will be peppered with celebrities - from Claire Danes and Zac Efron (Me and Orson Welles) to Matt Dillon and Kate Beckinsale (Nothing but the Truth) - but Toronto foodies would be the first to point out that these aren't considered the city's best places to chow down. The skinny is that various restos get booked by event producers for the duration of the film festival. They offer themselves at bargain-basement prices in exchange for bragging rights. Of course, if a local stargazer were really smart, she'd make reservations at standbys such as Sotto Sotto and Joso's, or newcomers Grace and Nyood, where more discreet action will be happening nightly.

But grabbing your own brush with greatness is getting harder this year. Lobby will not be open to the hoi polloi this time (not that it ever prided itself on a lax velvet-rope policy). It has turned private and will be known as the Luxury Lounge for the duration. Under the auspices of Jordan Bitove's Vision Co., with such tony brand partners as Perrier-Jouët, Vogue and London Fog, it will be the destination for numerous studio dinners and a little tomfoolery care of LeBron James and Steve Nash, who are hosting after-parties.

And now some burning questions. Check back throughout the week for answers.

Will Anne Hathaway wear Prada to the screening of Rachel Getting Married? While her onscreen look more closely channels ready-to-rebel than ready-to-wear, this bona fide actress will likely go the glam route when she heads to the after-party at Brandt House.

Will Colin Farrell make front-page news once again when he reunites with his formerly homeless Toronto friend who goes by the name Stress? One year after the sexy Irishman treated the stranger to a shopping spree and encouraged him to get his life on track, Stress is now off the streets. Incidentally, Mr. Farrell is here this year for a film called Pride & Glory,which also stars Ed Norton.

Will the cast of Burn After Reading actually make it to their top secret after-party? Last year, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie's SUV was so swarmed by fans on Yorkville Avenue that they ditched their plans to kick back at hot spot Amber and decamped to the Park Hyatt's rooftop lounge, which I lovingly refer to as the "famous fortress in the sky."

Will Geoffrey Rush continue to be the festival's most omnipresent party-hopper? Last year, the actor best known for his Academy Award-winning role in Shine turned up everywhere, from Casa Loma to Holt Renfrew to the George Christy luncheon. Should Mr. Rush wish to relinquish this title, singer John Legend definitely qualifies. How he will be able to cram in a song or two at One X One, a headlining performance with Mariah Carey for the Canadian Idol finale, a jam session at King Street boîte Atelier, an appearance at a Lush magazine party and a private dinner into three days is beyond me.

My agenda is equally packed. The difference, of course, is that I won't have an entourage.

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