Category Archives: films

Hell House (Day 14)

Picture this: it’s Halloween Eve 1990. You and your friends are costumed up, ready for a night full of debauchery and immoral self-indulgence. You’ve been dying to scream your heads off at one of the plethora of haunted houses that springs up every October, but you’re especially psyched about going to the new kid on the block called, forebodingly, Hell House. You drive up and think to yourself “how scary can this really be, being that it’s at a church and all”. You pay your $20 bucks, walk in, and are guided from room to room from tour guides dressed as demons. The scenes seem exceptionally gruesome and startingly real: date rapes (and subsequent suicides) at raves, fatal drunk driving crashes, school massacres a la Columbine, and abortions gone wrong. Sound like the haunted house you signed up to see? Not likely.

Scaremare was the first “Hell House” of its kind and was, not surprisingly, created by none other than Jerry Falwell in the late 1970’s. It’s still in existence today. Scaremare, whose tagline is, incidentally, “Don’t be a stranger”, spawned copy cat Hell Houses around the country, most notably by Keenan Roberts of Colorado, who infamously created and sold Hell House outreach kits0, and Temple Hell House in Temple, Texas, ironically near Fort Hood where 13 people were recently shot and killed.

The familiar and distinctive voice traveled over my speakers into my ears and, as per usual, my heart did the little dance it does when I hear him. My boyfriend, Ira Glass1 of This American Life, was interviewing George Ratliff, the director of a wee documentary so powerful that it was selected to play at the 2001 Toronto International Film Festival. The film portrays the story of Trinity Assembly of God2, a fundamentalist church outside of Dallas, Texas, and their version of Hell House. Trinity’s version of the script depicts sin as it’s defined by the religious far right, the consequences of committing those sins, and the salvation gained from redemption should one choose to commit their life to God. In general, the idea is to assert that non-believers do not pass Go, do not collect $200 and basically go straight to hell. The audition process for Hell House is apparently pretty fierce, and the cast and crew (all recruited from the church membership) are woefully large.  Scripts are written, sets are built, souls are saved, and money is made. A Facebook page even exists.

I’ve embedded this year’s Hell House trailer (yes, they even have a trailer) for your enjoyment. The video is pretty intense, but worth a look. Check it and I’ll see you on the other side:

Aprés Hell House tour, attendees are taken into what’s called the Decision Room. They are asked “if you died tonight, do you know where you’d go? Would it be heaven or would it be hell?”, and are given six seconds — SIX! – to decide if they want to bail (by which I mean remain one of the damned) or “go pray with a counsellor”.

According to director George Ratliff, approximately 13,000 people went through Hell House in 2008 alone and more than 700 churches have bought the Hell House outreach kit. Shockingly (well, to me, anyway), Trinity Assembly estimates that 1 in 5 Hell House attendees choose to either become Christian or recommit themselves to the church. Commit, indeed.

0 Uh, right.
1 Holy hotness, batman!
2 I searched high and low for a website for this church (by which I mean Google), but found zilch. Apologies for the non-linkage.

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One Week

This weekend, I saw what may possibly be the best Canadian movie ever made.  It made me so damn proud to be Canadian that I could hardly stand it.  And I’m American.

The film is called “One Week” and it premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival last September to rave reviews*.  In an interview this week with CBC Radio3, the film’s writer and director Michael McGowan called it his “…love letter to the country” .  I can’t think of a more apt description, really.  You can listen to the March 3 podcast of the interview here.

The story is about a guy, played by Canadian Joshua Jackson (natch), who is drifting into a marriage and a life he’s not sure he wants.  He is diagnosed with a terminal illness (cancer) and decides to take off on a road trip instead of seeking treatment. Fantastic Canadian bands like Stars, Wintersleep and Great Lake Swimmers make up the amazing soundtrack as the main character travels west from Toronto to Tofino, British Columbia.  The scenery alone is reason enough to see the film — Canada truly is a beautiful land.  The film is a quirky and soul searching trip jam-packed full of Canadian references to most Americans won’t get, including everything from rolling up the rim of a Tim Horton’s cup to the Terry Fox monument.

Interestingly, the narrator of the movie asked the viewer more than once “What would you do if you knew you only had one day, or one week, or one month?”.  It got me thinking.  What would I do?  Would I crawl into the fetal position and weep?  Likely.  Would I tear off my clothes and run naked through the park screaming?  Hmmm, maybe not. I don’t know what I’d do but I’m going to think on it this week and get back to you.  I think it’s important that we think about these things and not ignore the possibilities life may lay in front of you.  But enough with the heavy.

The question also led me to look back over my blog and what I found, my dear readers, scared me!  I have over 20 entries that I’ve never published and the majority of them were rather large trips I’ve taken since I moved to Canada 21 months ago.  The horror!  A few examples:

  • Trip to Montréal
  • Trip to Quebéc City
  • Trip to Vancouver
  • Trip to Ottawa
  • Trip to Machu Picchu and Lima, Peru
  • Trip to San Francisco and Napa Valley
  • Trip to Buffalo and the Erie Canal
  • Trip to Hell and back (kid.ding)
  • A private tour of the West Wing (I saw the Oval Office!)
  • Meeting David Sedaris
  • Shooting TV commercials with cool NBA stars
  • Watching Rafael Nadal play front row at the Rogers Cup
  • Going to the Masters Tournament and being 3 feet from Tiger (!)
  • A myriad of other things about which I was too lazy to write 

What I’ve been doing all this time, I don’t know.  But I will not spare you having to wait for them much longer…look for these exciting entries very soon.  I know you can’t hardly wait.


*well, from what I remember.  I couldn’t get a ticket, so it must have been good.

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Filed under Canada, films, toronto international film festival, Travel

Don’t Try This at Home – the Story of TIFF 08

Brutal. The only word in the English language that even remotely describes the ticketing process for the Toronto International Film Festival. Much blood, sweat and tears go into snagging tickets to the highly sought after, and sometimes even lowly sought after, films that are invited to TIFF. I wholly recognize that Toronto is the only film festival in the world that allows the public to attend, but for the love of God, there has got to be a better way to make this miserably difficult process easier for everyone! If this doesn’t change soon, the blister popping on my normally perfectly pedicured feet will never end from the 3 hour waits in line. This is the “people’s festival” after all and a large part of its success is because the buyers and distributors want to see how a film plays with an audience of real people. Not plastic Hollywood types. So why is the process so f-ing difficult to get an actual ticket?!

I was determined not to repeat the mistake I made last year when I purchased 10 single movie tickets for $220+ when I could have purchased a ticket package for tens of dollars less. TIFF ticket purchasing is really a needlessly convoluted process so for those of you who have nothing else to do with the next 8 minutes of your life, stay tuned for a layperson’s description of said process.

Unless you’ve signed up to receive TIFF alerts, you likely won’t know what happens when, which I learned last year the hard way. I subsequently – and smartly – signed up for their emails and presto! – received the first of many in mid-May. First, you figure out how many movies you want to see, whether you want to pair up with someone else to share, etc, etc. There are packages available from a 50 movie pack down to single tickets. It’s almost singularly impossible to schedule and physically get to 5 movies per day for 10 days in Toronto. Think about it. Ouch. You’d seriously need one of those blow up rings people with hemorrhoids sit on just to make it through the day. I settled on 15 tickets – a 10 ticket package and 5 single tickets. TIFF changed the process this year and no longer allowed package holders to schedule Gala screenings or Visa Screening Room films. They are their own separate packages and of course, expensive as hell. However, if you are a stargazer/fucker, this is definitely the package for you.

In early August, you are notified of the date when you can queue up at one location in downtown Toronto to pick up your official film schedule and 2 scantron-like forms that you manually complete. Said date this year was Monday, August 26. Said location was Toronto Life Square – TIFF’s new home at Yonge/Dundas Square. Schedules were available only from 10 am to 6pm. Sigh. They really make you work for this. I managed to pick up my forms fairly quickly and went to get dinner to peruse the films. (As an aside, Johnny Rockets just opened up at Toronto Life Square so I decided to have a burger at the schmaltzy 50’s joint. Interestingly, halfway through my meal, a 50’s song came on and the entire staff – including the chefs – did a full on dance to “Stop! In the Name of Love”. Oh, and they made a ketchup happy face on my hamburger. Aww.)
This year, the scan-tron request forms had to be turned in by Friday, August 30. Unluckily for me, I was going on holiday to Quebec City so had to return mine by Wednesday, August 28, giving me just 2 short days to read through 310 film synopses and make a schedule for 30 films (15 first choice, 15 second choice). Trust me, this is no small feat. There is some pre-festival blogging about certain movies but for the most part, my strategy was to get tickets only to movies that I felt wouldn’t be readily available in theatres. After 8 long hours, I was ready to turn my selections in. I trudged *back* up to Toronto Life Square (if I was a gambling woman, I’d say that the TTC gets some kind of cut from the 10,000 Torontonians making 3 trips to TLS for TIFF) I thought it would only take 5 minutes to turn in my form, but alas, the line just to *turn in* the scantron was an hour long. Sigh.

Finally, everything was turned in and I got my “box number”. This is the most important part of the TIFF ticketing process. I am sure that Torontonians everywhere get down on their knees at night praying that they get a good box number. Mine? Lucky #16. Once everyone has turned in their forms, TIFF draws a number at random and that’s the box they begin processing ticket requests first. This year, they drew #9, so i essentially got all of my first choice since I was in box #16. Afterwards, I heard that there were over 150 boxes of envelopes this year, so I definitely lucked out.

On Monday, September 1 (Labour Day), you could begin picking up your tickets, buy single movie tickets and exchange for other films. Needless to say, the lines were again excruciatingly long. I know I’ve made light of the lines, but part of the fun of TIFF is actually standing in line and getting to know the people around you. People talk about what they’re seeing or what they’ve heard is good, and the camaraderie is way cool. But after two hours of standing there, it gets old. The entire process is done manually so when you get up there, you give them your pick up ticket and they go through cardboard boxes by last name to find your envelope.

With tickets finally in hand, I did a little jig and headed home, thrilled and very much looking forward to TIFF08!

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Filed under films, TIFF, toronto international film festival