Kate Winslet Talks Importance of Film Festivals at TIFF: "That's How We Began"

Kate Winslet 3 Getty 2017 - H
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The 'Ammonite' star, Anthony Hopkins, Mira Nair and other TIFF Tribute Award winners gathered from their homes for a virtual press conference as the pandemic forces festivals mostly online.

With A-list stars not walking up red carpets at the Toronto International Film Festival into physical screenings amid the pandemic, Kate Winslet, Anthony Hopkins and other winners of TIFF Tribute Awards gathered virtually to talk about the importance of festivals for the entertainment industry.

Winslet, who has brought her latest film, Ammonite, to Toronto's hybrid 2020 edition, recalled going to Venice in 1994 after starring in Peter Jackson's Heavenly Creatures, a film that launched her career internationally at 18 years of age.

"I remember this remarkable moment of sitting and watching the film with an audience and it was almost as if in that moment the penny dropped and I thought, 'Oh my God, I'm really in a film. It wasn't just something that I made in New Zealand,'" Winslet said of her first big-screen film festival appearance.

"For so many of us, that's how we began. If it weren't for festivals, in particular for TIFF, to still be here, invited back and contributing and sharing, even in this strange platform, it's just so important to keep connecting and sharing like this," Winslet added as she appeared remotely from her home in the south of England.

Director Mira Nair discussed bringing Monsoon Wedding to Venice in 2001, where she arrived with a tiny promotional budget, only to leave Italy with the Golden Lion trophy in hand. "When we showed Monsoon Wedding to very stiff, formal Italians in their gowns and tiaras, it was surprising as, in the middle of the film, they literally got up from their seats, threw off their tiaras and started to dance, and then sat down again. It was like being in India with a 25 rupee theater ticket and people throw money onscreen when they like something," Nair explained.

Then two days later, on Sept. 11, 2001, as a deadly terror attack hit the U.S., an early morning press and industry screening for Monsoon Wedding was just wrapping up in Toronto, Nair added. "People came dancing out of the theater and the world had changed in the space of two hours. It was actually cataclysmic. We all came together and stayed together, however great and small, so it was bewildering and comforting and confusing," she recounted.

Anthony Hopkins, who first came to Toronto in 1996 for the world premiere of Lee Tamahori's The Edge, said he missed the human contact of film festivals as red carpets and in-person screenings are no longer options for most industry gatherings.

"It's a hard one to get used to, this environment. It seems so bizarre and it's hard to know how long it will go on," Hopkins said of the pandemic as he appeared remotely from his home in Los Angeles.

Other TIFF Tribute Award honorees this year include Chloé Zhao, Tracey Deer and Terence Blanchard. On Tuesday night, the TIFF Tribute Awards will be broadcast on CTV across Canada, while also streaming internationally.

Canadian pop star Shawn Mendes will perform during the TIFF awards show, while Olivia Colman, Regina King, Ava DuVernay, Colin Farrell, Jodie Foster, Delroy Lindo and Tabu will present awards.

The Toronto film festival runs through Sept. 19.