This year marks my fourth sojourn to the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), and for the first time I have been able to add a few extra days to my usual long weekend mad dash through an impossibly overbooked itinerary that leaves me feeling like a camera-toting tourist snapping pictures of all the officially sanctioned hotspots. The extra time relieves a degree of pressure inherent in those truncated trips where there is little room for side excursions down unfamiliar corners of the film world that sometimes lead, honestly, to dead ends both in terms of quality and the likelihood of the titles ever reaching our regional screens.

With almost a full week at my disposal, I’m trying to embrace the travel philosophy of simply going where the frames take me. I have already lined up for a few of the major attractions like Ben Affleck’s tense 1979 Iranian hostage thriller Argo (a major step in cementing his status as the heir apparent to golden boy actor-director lineage that includes Robert Redford and George Clooney) and The Master, the latest cinematic eruption from the volcanic Paul Thomas Anderson. As powerful as his themes are, it could be argued that another equally necessary element in his genius is in finding masterful collaborators and here, he has Joaquin Phoenix and Phillip Seymour Hoffman, who shared the top acting prize at the Venice Film Festival, while Anderson earned directing honors.

And yet, I’ve been just as eager to travel a bit further abroad, hitching along for a ride with Salman Rushdie’s adaptation of his own novel, Midnight’s Children, about a collection of children born at the precise moment that India and Pakistan gained independence from the British.

Talk about being Bourne with a sense of identity. The best of Midnight’s reel life fails to match the stunningly evocative cultural specificity and the magic realism of Rushdie’s literary flow, but the frames offer picaresque slides of far away lands.

Film is communal from production to exhibition and, right on cue, I got a reminder during a brief chat outside the Filmmaker’s Lounge with cinematographer Peter Simonite (a second unit shooter on Terrence Malick’s To The Wonder as well as the dramedy Arthur Newman, both of which are on my must-see list). The first-time TIFFer was warm and chatty, as he expressed his eagerness to use his time to connect with his fellow filmmakers and the films themselves. So many travelers of all stripes, it seems.

As of this writing, I am nearing the end of the journey, with only one more full day and a final screening on the morning of my departure (which, if all goes according to schedule, will add up to 30 stops along the way). And it is funny because I think of the experience much like Emilio Estevez’s film The Way, about the Spanish pilgrimage along the Pyrenees to the burial site of St. James, where the true adherents walk the path without aid, except for the kindness of strangers who offer shelter each night.

TIFF 2012 has been a pilgrimage, complete with makeshift stamps in my cinematic passport to mark themes and destinations I have encountered. I have stared into the many faces of addiction — from alcohol (Smashed, a distaff version of Half Nelson with Mary Elizabeth Winstead seeking to recover after plopping on her bottom) to sex (the less than satisfying Thank You For Sharing) to pill popping (the numbingly trippy Yellow from Nick Cassavetes) — buddied up with cops on patrol (riding along with Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena in David Ayer’s End of Watch) and indulged a newfound taste for Scandinavian fare (from familial relationship drama in Blondie to the Nordic crime thrills of All That Matters Is Past).

It’s that last bit that matters most though, in my role as a guide. The Scandinavian films will likely never reach our region, but these are the films we need to hear about, to book our digitally streaming cues. The three sisters in Blondie, at war with themselves, each other and their mother, might be more familiar they we think. Filmmaker Jesper Ganslandt delves into the feminine perspective not like it is some foreign landscape where men fear to tread, but as if this story might merely be a doorway into a long-partitioned part of the hearts that belong to both men and women.

In other words, clicking through a faraway itinerary is little more than a journey inward. (tt stern-enzi)