TIFF Question Asking 101

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The question and answer session after a film is one of the best things about festivals. Who needs to wait for the DVD to hear commentary when the director’s right there, brimming with insights and neat stories about filming? And if you’re lucky, sometimes there’s even additional cast and crew—or, your director is Bobcat Goldthwait, and you get a ten-minute stand up performance.

Here’s the thing, though. Nothing derails a Q&A like a bad question. They’re few and far between, but if you’re tempted to ask something resembling one of the five questions below—which, by the way, are all real questions from last year’s TIFF—then stop. Let someone else go. We’ll all be thankful for it.


“Isn’t St. Petersburg the capital of Russia?”
– Confused University Girl who, I’m embarrassed to say, was wearing a U of T hoodie

First of all, no. Secondly, simple facts are readily available on the internet.  See all those people around you tapping away on smart phones? We know you’ve got one, Confused University Girl, because you were texting throughout the film. Well, not everyone else is texting and tweeting—they’re checking the director’s past films on IMDB, looking up the name of the film’s title song by Googling a few lyrics, or reacquainting themselves with the basic geography of Russia so as to not waste everyone else’s time with silly questions.

“I’m familiar with your past work, such as Film X, Film Y . . . or was it Film J? . . .  and of course, Film Z, which, in my opinion, was the best, although the last time I saw it I had a terrific head cold and fear I misinterpreted it . . .  and I’m wondering about thematic connections between all the films in your oeuvre, specifically . . .”
– Rambling Guy who didn’t think this through

Rambling Guy, I’m sure you get this all the time, but here it goes: wrap it up. If your question takes longer than a minute to ask, you’re doing it wrong. Before you raise your hand, think it over in your head and boil it down to something simple and direct. You won’t get a satisfactory answer if the director can’t follow your question, and everyone else will hate you.

“I like how the film slowly builds character arcs and wends its way to an ambiguous conclusion.”
– Bespectacled Older Gentleman inexplicably wearing tweed in 30 degree weather

Oh, Bespectacled Older Gentleman, aren’t you just the image of a professor. You used the word ‘wend’ in a sentence? How clever. Too bad you were supposed to be asking a question. If you want to review films, hang out on IMDB, start a blog, or email Ricky—he loves writers who can string a sentence together. There are dozens of avenues available to the erstwhile film reviewer, but a Q&A isn’t one of them. You’ve got an opinion about the film? Fantastic. So does every single other person in the audience, and you aren’t more important than everyone else.

“When I rack focus—yeah, I’m a filmmaker, I’m in my first year at Ryerson, I’ve done a handful of shorts, mostly experimental, one animated—I usually . . .”
– Excitable Bug-Eyed Frosh

Settle down, figurative Spielberg. There’s only one director in the room we’re interested in hearing from, and it isn’t you. When your film is in TIFF, we’ll happily listen to your Q&A. Besides, with a little editing, a narcissistic question becomes an informed question. Ask about rack focusing, or use other film school jargon, and the director will love you. After all, that’s how the other film school kids ask questions.

“Will Americans watch your film about vibrators, given how puritanical they are? What do you think, [American director] Tanya Wexler?”
– Snarky Torontonian lady who needs to rag on Americans instead of having a personality

By all means, condescend to the director in front of the entire Elgin theatre. She’ll love that.

– Dave Robson

1 Comment
  1. Tom Stoup says

    I am pleased to read this and confirm that I have passed your question-asking course! Although Rob Zombie’s hesitance to begin speaking after my question encouraged me to ramble slightly in attempt to clarify what I was getting at, I am more confident after reading this that the three total questions I asked over the course of the fest (one of which was to Brian De Palma himself! *joygasm*) were not groan-worthy as some others certainly were (IE “You’re an icon, I love you, I watch all your films… how do you choose your wardrobe?” or “You like to show T&A… but why never any full-frontal?”… groooaaan).

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