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An Interloper's Guide to TIFF

If you happen to be in town for TIFF, here are a few pointers.

September is one of the busiest months of the year. And in Toronto the reams of films – and attendant hoard of A-list celebrities – that flood the city for the Toronto International Film Festival magnify that sense of exhilaration to the nth degree. If you happen to be in town from September 8-18 but haven’t put in the appropriate hours of planning required to properly “do the festival”, here are a few pointers.

Your best bets for a last-minute ticket

Years ago buying advance tickets for TIFF involved two different coloured highlighter markers and lining up overnight on a downtown street. Technology has greatly simplified the advance ticket buying process but many Torontonians still complain it is too overwhelming. Here’s a secret: it’s not. Tickets can be purchased online via TIFF.net and if a film is listed as “off sale” check back at 7 a.m. on the day of the screening as new tickets are often released on the day of.

If a film is still off-sale, you must get in the Rush line at the venue where the film is playing ahead of the scheduled start time. The earlier the better is the rule (especially if a big star is due to attend), but sometimes you can luck out when festivalgoers looking to unload tickets hit up the Rush line to sell or give away unwanted tickets. The celebrity craziness dies down by the end of the festival so the final weekend is a good time to catch repeat screenings.


Actor Ryan Reynolds takes a photograph with fans on the red carpet during the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival.

Where to skulk if you want a view of the stars

Red carpets are set up at the entrances for Roy Thomson Hall, the Elgin Theatre, the TIFF Bell Lightbox and the Princess of Whales Theatre but are usually mobbed with autographed seekers. If you are really dying to see how tall or surged your latest tabloid obsession looks in-person, figure out when a movie is ending a stand outside the cinema’s exit. If you are more the ‘spontaneous’ selfie stakeout-type and you have time to kill, planting yourself outside the Ritz-Carlton, the Hazelton, the Thompson, One King West, the Fairmont Royal York, the Shangri-La, the Intercontinental, the Windsor  Arms, the Park Hyatt and the Soho House may yield an Instagram-able moment.

What restos to totally avoid because they’re taken over

Casual diners interested in a quiet evening out during TIFF should probably avoid any eating facility inside the TIFF Bell Lightbox, at any boutique or upmarket hotel in any part of the city, or at the upscale spots near the Lightbox such as Momofuku, Montecito, Brassaii, The Chase or Patria. The stretch of King Street between Peter Street and University Avenue will also be closed to car traffic during the first four days of the festival. 

How to catch the TIFF vibe, even without coveted tickets

There are always several concerts and parties that coincide with TIFF, though most are private or for the festival’s industry delegates, meaning you need to be on the list or really good at talking your way in to things. Publically accessible events include a free concert by Pharrell Williams, in support of the film Hidden Figures, on Festival Street (King St. W. between Peter and University) on September 10, and the 30th anniversary of two classic films are being celebrated with free Festival Street screenings, as well. Labyrinth will be shown on Friday, Sept. 9 and Ferris Bueller's Day Off will screen on Sunday, Sept. 11.

On Tuesday, Sept 13, John Legend and Mark Duplass are hosting a free screening – with cocktails – at the Hot Docs Cinema celebrating TIFF's edgier Vanguard programme. Even more innovative, TIFF is bringing virtual reality to the festival with POP VR, a curated progamme of five VR films that run consecutively so viewer can take them all in, running from Sept. 16-18. Tickets are required, but they're likely more attainable than tickets to regular films.  

Other public parties (though some required a paid ticket) include those at Maison MercerSameHouse of TIFFthe TIFF Bachelor PartyTIFF Ovation and an opening night bash at DEQ, just to name a few. An added bonus for film revellers: many of the cities bars extend their serving hours until 4 a.m.

And as always, the People's Choice Award screening is open to the public on Sept. 18, though getting tickets might require pro-level lining up. 

Understanding the pirate noise and the commercial clap-along

Like many large groups of humans, seasoned TIFF audience members have developed a few quirks. So if you find yourself in the midst of such crowds, their actions require a bit of explaining. 

For years, audiences have heartily yelled “Y’AAARRR” at the screen during the anti-piracy warning that precedes each screening. This pirate call trend, which originated in the festival’s rowdy Midnight Madness screenings, went on unabated until programmers realized directors that speak languages other than English were interpreting this satirical gesture as a sign of offense. Programmers began discouraging the Y’AAARRR noise but it still happens, albeit less reliably.

Two years ago, Midnight Madness fans decided that another way to spice up the pre-roll ads was to clap along to a particularly rhythmic commercial for festival sponsor L’Oreal. The beauty brand attempted to foil them last year by producing a musically ambient follow-up spot, but the Midnighters remained undeterred and clapped along anyway.


This article was updated on Sept 5, 2016.

Published Wednesday, September 9th 2015

Header image credit: Naomi Watts at TIFF. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette)



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