It’s the Tuesday before TIFF. A policeman is leaning on his bike while writing up a yellow ticket for a flatbed truck heaped with metal crowd-control barriers. It stands in a no-parking, no-stopping zone, in front of a driveway and beside a fire hydrant. But there isn’t a single spot available today. Roy Thomson Hall, David Pecaut Square and the TIFF Bell Lightbox are all within metres of each other, and Wellington Street is a cyclone of activity. Workers are unpacking outsized tents, window washers are wiping down glass and men in cherry pickers are changing light bulbs at the entrance of the Ritz-Carlton. It’s T minus two days to the Toronto International Film Festival.
Franck Arnold, the charismatic European general manager of the Ritz-Carlton Toronto, wants me to experience an A-lister entrance. He signals for a prearranged limo to collect us from the front semi-circle, freshly planted with fall’s mums. “A guest’s arrival is a crucial time for us,” he explains, as I slide my ripped jeans and Converse into the modified Audi A8 stretch. “We don’t make a big fuss, pretty much on the contrary. One of our most critical services is confidentiality.”
I’m whisked to the lower depths of the underground garage, relaxing into the leather as classical music tinkles away. We arrive 27 seconds later. My door is opened and I step out onto the welcoming blue carpet at the undisclosed underground entrance (normally there’d be security, too). I step inside. There’s a sign painted on the whitewashed cinder block that says, Entrée des Artistes.
“This is the time of year Toronto is transformed. It’s a metamorphosis,” Arnold says. We’re now on the 20th-floor club lounge, sipping Pilot Coffee cappuccinos. “There’s a certain atmosphere, a certain vibe,” he explains. “It draws the attention of something that isn’t necessarily about finances. You see it in Paris and London, too. The restaurants and bars are full, and traffic is blocked in certain areas during festivals. It’s about art.”