Actor Sacha Baron Cohen makes his Canadian debut at the Toronto International Film Festival premiere screening of Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan. (Evan Agostini/Getty Images)
The quintessential experience for those on the rump end of the lottery that determines ticket distribution at the Toronto International Film Festival is lining up for rush tickets to sold-out movies.
Actually, there’s precious little rushing involved, but there certainly are lines — great, exhausting lines that can wind around two city blocks if the buzz is strong enough, fuelled by the hope that some last-minute tickets will become available.
I suppose a lucky handful did experience a rush scoring tickets for the midnight screening of Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan on Thursday, the opening night of TIFF. In the hirsute guise of Kazakhstani journalist Borat Sagdiyev, the film’s creator and star, Sacha Baron Cohen (a.k.a. spurious nitwit Ali G) lulls ordinary, well-meaning Americans into revealing their vilest prejudices. Only the filmmakers (and their viewers) are in on the joke.
Borat made his Canadian debut at Midnight Madness, where TIFF showcases some of its more cultish films. I waited in the rush line with the other hapless Boratians. It gave me the chance to mingle with festival devotees, tireless fanatics who, like surgeons on call, will put their lives on hold — always ready to throw on their blazers to snap up a precious ticket.
But first they will stand in line. And wait.
I arrive at the festival theatre on the campus of Ryerson University, home to a famous journalism school — an apt, if cynical, place to screen Borat. The theatre has 1,260 seats, each one long since sold. About 40 people are already waiting in the rush line.
I move to the front, where they’ve been waiting since 4 p.m. Joseph, 42, is the eldest. His view of Sacha Baron Cohen? “He’s the funniest comedian since Tom Green.”
Raffi, 24, has pulled out his laptop and is watching a video clip of Borat on Conan O’Brien. He shows me photos of himself dressed as Borat for Halloween; it took him six weeks to grow the moustache. Raffi was doused, he says, “in cologne my dad had since before I was born.” From somewhere, a pungent plume of marijuana smoke rises.
The first celebrity sighting: Cillian Murphy. He poses for photos with a clutch of giddy girls and stumbles on, friendly but shell-shocked.
More stumbling, this time by two drunk men who are wearing Hawaiian shirts, chugging 40s and shouting, “Shoot me!” to anyone with a camera (one assumes). Lest we’d forgotten, this is downtown Toronto.
I meet Katarina, 18, born in Kazakhstan. Her take on Borat: “He’s putting my country on the map. Sure, we’re misinformed. But we’re still informed.”
Brian, 20, skipped the second half of his Business Ethics course to stand in line. The first rule of business ethics: the customer is always right.
I overhear a man complain into his cellphone: “We’re in the line of hopelessness.” Patience is waning. The line is now 120 people long.
The cast of Fido, the film preceding Borat, arrives. Gawkers crowd the piazza, snapping photos of Carrie-Anne Moss.
I take a peek at the line for ticket-holders, those with the luck and/or foresight to buy in advance. There are only five of them.
Back to the rush. Someone has planted a Kazakhstani flag in the grass. The line now twists down Gerrard Street and into the Ryerson campus.
A volunteer tries to start the wave in the rush line. It peters after a dozen people. “You all suck!” she yells.
Four Boratians loitering near the red carpet have made signs to wave at their hero. One reads, “Pimp my goat.” Another: “Borat, I am cuzin of you.” Another: “Borat Kanada like!”
I’m told a volunteer witnessed a $400 cash transaction for a single ticket. Must confirm.
Confirmed. Jason, 22, who runs his own mortgage company in the U.S. (!), paid $400 for a single ticket (!!). Why? “He’s really frickin’ funny.”
I ask the 305th person in line what he thinks his chances are. “Uh, not good.”
For the first time, I notice the full moon. Midnight Madness indeed.
Some people in line are struggling to stay upright. The farther the line goes, the harder this seems.
Around the red carpet, volunteers have joined hands to keep the crowd back. The anticipation is palpable.
Michael Moore arrives to shouts of “Respect!” from the Ali G gallery. Fido is still emptying. One patron has a spare ticket to Borat; would anyone want it? The rushies are stunned by the miracle offer, dulled by seven and a half hours in line. Joseph alone says, “Okay.”
Borat arrives for the film screening. (Evan Agostini/Getty Images)
Suddenly, music. A brisk march, with strings, muted horns, possibly an accordion. The street electrifies.
Borat is here. Sacha Baron Cohen, that is, in character. He is riding a wooden cart, standing on a potato sack. A horse sits in the cart behind him and Borat is swatting something up front.
Not something, someone: four women in ratty cardigans and headscarves are pulling the cart. Borat is shouting, “High Five!” to the crowd and slapping the air. A chant wells up around him: “Bo-rat! Bo-rat!”
Borat enters the media scrum. He is taller than I expect, towering over the reporters. He interviews with utter conviction.
Borat high-fives the fans crammed against the barriers. The music and chants of “Bo-rat!” resume, fading only when he disappears into the theatre.
Michael Moore, caught in the Borat tidal wave, is still on the red carpet speaking to a rapidly thinning press corps.
Still no word on rush tickets. “This is too much stress for me,” says a man watching gawkers and quitters stream past. Besides this thinning, the rush line hasn’t budged in eight hours.
The moment of truth. A volunteer arrives at the front of the rush line, listens to her earpiece, pulls a handful of tickets out of her pouch. One. Two. Three. Four tickets. And no more.
The news takes a moment to sink in. “This is cock!” someone yells. “Can we have candy at least?” shouts another. One man crabbing into his cellphone stops me. “Put this in your blog: I’ve lost my faith in God.”
A few dozen remain, smoking pensively or wandering aimlessly. The grassy embankments along the Ryerson campus are littered with detritus. I’m reminded of the closing moments of Woodstock. We’ll see how this compares.
(Click here to read about projection problems during the Borat screening.)
Borat Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan screens again at TIFF on Sept. 9.
Guy Leshinski is a writer based in Toronto.
CBC does not endorse and is not responsible for the content of external sites - links will open in new window.