Toronto: Thunderstorms and Downtown Gridlock Rain on Fest's Parade

Toronto Rain - H 2014
Evan Agostini/Invision/AP

The sky opened up just before the world premiere of Bill Murray's latest film

Monsoon rains and Mumbai-style gridlock greeted guests on the Toronto Film Festival's opening weekend, with torrential rainfall washing out red-carpet galas as bumper-to-bumper traffic caused delays and tested tempers.

Friday night's thunderstorms threatened to rain on Bill Murray's parade as the sky opened up just before the world premiere of his latest, St. Vincent. Protected only by a tiny umbrella held over him by a distressed publicist, Murray got soaked but still worked the crowd, signing autographs and cracking wise with fans.

The weather also washed out the pre-premiere bash of Morgan Freeman and Diane Keaton starrer Ruth & Alex at Michael’s on Simcoe on Friday. “I wish I had my own umbrella business,” one of the party reps joked. “I'd make a fortune tonight.”

Lightning strikes even forced Canadian celebrity TV magazine show eTalk to cancel its red-carpet live-streaming of the Ruth & Alex premiere, with eTalk powering down their production truck outside Roy Thomson Hall ahead of the thunderstorm.

Ben Stiller, who is in Toronto for Noah Baumbach's While We're Young, was going to appear live on the annual Stand Up to Cancer telecast airing Sept. 5 on numerous networks, but lightning knocked out the satellite feed. The show, executive produced by Gwyneth Paltrow and Joel Gallen, the president of Tenth Planet Productions, was broadcast from Los Angeles.

Inclement weather also diverted and grounded flights into Toronto. Two-time Oscar winner Paul Haggis was on a Friday evening flight from New York that had to make a harrowing near-landing before reversing course amid the fierce storm. The flight was diverted to Ottawa, where the passengers were stuck for the night. "The crowd was excited to be at a Days Inn with an Oscar winner," says a fellow passenger and industryite who was told by the flight crew that at least 13 planes were similarly rerouted to Ottawa. Cedric the Entertainer was on a flight in from L.A. that got diverted to Syracuse to wait out the storm. CAA agent Kim Hodgert, producer Michael London and Warner Bros' Adam Keen were on same flight while Maziar Bahari, the real-life inspiration for the main character in Jon Stewart's Rosewater, was also delayed arriving because of the storm.

But if the weather was bad, the traffic was worse. Toronto's gridlock is trying at the best of times, but Toronto's decision to make main thoughfare King Street a pedestrian-only promenade between University Avenue and Peter Street essentially shut the city down.

“If you spot any street moving traffic during your visit to Toronto, report this to City Hall immediately” tweeted Canadian radio host Matt Galloway, summing up the frustrations of TIFF attendees.

Official festival press conferences, as well as private junkets, were badly disrupted. Director Jason Reitman and most of his cast from Men, Women & Children, including Jennifer Garner and Ansel Elgort, were 30 minutes late to the TIFF Bell Lightbox after their caravan slowed to a crawl.

Robert Downey Jr. arrived late Thursday to an “intimate Canadian roundtable” for his opening night gala film The Judge. The car taking him to the Shangri-La Hotel on University Avenue had gotten stuck in Toronto’s permanent gridlock.

“We’re running late, and this has to do with the infrastructure of your city,” Downey said, joking he was planning to “set up a zip-line system” to get things moving again.

TIFF, however, brushed off traffic problems, praising the “terrific turnout” on the newly pedestrian King Street. “King Street is a vibrant hub of activity, with a lot of free programming taking place today and tomorrow along Festival Street. We are so appreciative of cooperative work done with the city of Toronto, the Toronto Entertainment District and the Toronto Transit Commission," said Jennifer Bell, vp communications and content management at TIFF.

Pamela McClintock and Tatiana Siegel contributed to this report.

Twitter: @sroxborough