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(Credit: Share Her Journey)

TIFF 2019: It’s September in Toronto and sisterhood is powerful

The Toronto Film Festival really knows how to make women feel wanted, and not in a creepy way. 

TIFF set the tone by launching this year’s festival with an opening-weekend, high-profile rally in support of women in film, Share Her Journey, complete with workshops where emerging female filmmakers can be mentored by the more experienced. The festival also prides itself on maintaining an unusually high proportion of festival selections directed by women, and by earmarking one of its annual awards for a first-time female director. 

The festival itself has a comfortably female-friendly atmosphere, something that is hard to quantify but which is easily felt, a combination of plenty of women volunteers; a concerted effort to include female members of the press; a constantly reiterated no abuse, no harassment policy throughout the festival; added to the unspoken message sent through film selection and choice of speakers and workshop leaders in all areas of the festival.

A strange, perhaps cinematic, feature of the festival district in downtown Toronto is the presence of a disturbingly large number of elderly women who look remarkably like Margaret Atwood. No joke; in the few blocks encompassing the film festival, and in a predominately youthful crowd, I passed literally dozens of women fitting that description, complete with the distinctive frizzy grey hair, the indifferent attitude to makeup, the pleasant old-lady smile negated by the forthright stare, the comfortable jacket with colourful scarf. They turn up everywhere at TIFF: sitting on park benches feeding sparrows between screenings, waiting in line for tickets to Antigone, contemptuously refusing to use pet names for coffee sizes at the cinema Starbucks. Atwood, recently re-elevated to unimpeachable feminist icon with the popular television adaptation of A Handmaid’s Tale, as well as the release of her long-awaited sequel, Testaments, may have, understandably, become a fashion role model with a certain element of the female population.

When I noticed that Ms Atwood is making a live appearance during the festival, to discuss her newly published Handmaid’s Tale sequel, I began to wonder if one of them may be the real thing. It’s not impossible that that the esteemed novelist was there with the festival goers, hiding in plain sight among her many doppelgangers to avoid the inevitable rush of women trying to kiss the hem of her garment. If so, she must feel entirely welcome and comfortable there.