Toronto International Film Festival: Your How-To Guide

Toronto International Film Festival

Ready to bask in some stardust? Then it's time for you to visit the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). And the beauty of this festival is that everyone’s experience is a little different. As one critic says, “TIFF is what you make it.”

 

It’s vast and that’s why you’re going: 397 films with 266 features — half world premieres — from 83 countries on 28 screens over 11 days in early September. There might be 20 films running at one time. After all, it is the world’s largest, with Time magazine even calling it the “most influential film festival, period.” 

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With a reputation for generating Oscar buzz, Toronto’s festival focuses on independent cinema and has launched numerous Academy Award winners since it started back in 1976. Expect the city’s Entertainment District to be packed with 5,500 actors, directors, movie biz VIPs, starlets, and glitterati, plus another half a million fans. With that in mind, it’s time to create you own personalized plan catering to your preferences. Here’s how:

Do your homework

Head to TIFF’s website and review your options. See what’s on the schedule. Check your favorite blogs and online mags for the latest intel. Prioritize and then make a general outline of what you will see when and where.

Pick your program

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There are essentially multiple festivals (“programmes”) going on at the same time, so pick your flavor and dip into that: Prime Time (TV), TIFF Kids, Platform (director’s cinema/juried), TIFF Docs, City to City, TIFF Cinemateque (revivals), Midnight Madness (shock/horror), Short Cuts, Vanguard (dark and edgy), Wavelengths, and more. Clearly, lack of choice will not be a problem.

Choose your topic favs

Select areas that interest you: for example, thrillers, drama, sexuality, art house, LGBTQ, crime, romance, comedy, Oscar-bound, Canadian, provocative, virtual reality, controversial, and so on. Or, if you're feeling bold, explore something you’ve never heard of before. Oh, yeah — don’t forget to grab your tickets either.

See something zany

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It’s time to get out of your cinematic comfort zone. If you gravitate towards sci-fi, take in a foreign film. Chick flick fan? Try a documentary or animation short or action feature. TIFF audiences are known for being lively and receptive, so you’ll be in good company at whichever you choose. Be sure to allow plenty of time for all the parties, talks, and concerts, too.

Bypass the “Coming Soon”

True, many Oscar darlings started at TIFF, take “Precious,” “Ray,” “Slumdog Millionaire,” “The King’s Speech,” “Silver Linings Playbook,” and (way back when) “Chariots of Fire,” for example. But getting in to see the next Hollywood smash hit is too hectic. Go for less-hyped options — an appealing indie film? — to reduce stress and maximize fun. You’ll see something more thrilling, more fascinating, and certainly much more memorable. That’s the point, isn’t it? You can catch a blockbuster at the local theater any old time.

Go to a Q&A

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How often do you get to sit in on a candid chat with Mark Wahlberg? Or Scarlett Johansson? Film directors and cast give audience Q&As before some screenings. Check out the schedule and make sure not to miss these!

Bring a buddy

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And make a new one. There’s a fair amount of waiting in line for tickets, shows, and events, especially if you’re lined up to see Jessica Chastain on the red carpet. Bring a pal and just savor the scene. Chat with other fans around you. Interesting conversations on what you’ve overseen/heard/watched are a big part of the festival experience.

Pack the right footwear

Can you really stand in those stilettos for two hours? If not, wear some comfy flats, sturdy boots, or your tried-and-true favorites. You can always carry your heels in a bag and slip them on for the after-party. We've learned that walking shoes reign supreme when you’re rushing from film, to party, to film, and back again.

Hit the town

Half the fun is pulling up a chair at Kit Kat Italian Bar & Grill and spying Ryan Gosling at the table next to you. Be cool. Canada is low-key and that’s why the stars love TO. Ask around for the best places to eat and drink where the stars do. TIFF insiders swear by Patria, Brassaii, Kasa Moto, Café Boulud, The Spoke Club, and Cibo Wine Bar.

Seek out the stars

The best festival hot spots for celeb sightings are Roy Thomson Hall and Ryerson Theatre. Expect to catch glimpses of A-listers along the lines of James Franco, Kate Mara, Elle Fanning, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Follow international media to local watering holes and boutiques for sneak peeks and to up your chances of a sighting, linger at Holt Renfrew, Hugo Boss, Gravity Pope, Archives, and Intermix.

If you want to see Toronto at its most dazzling, TIFF is the time. Just make sure you’ve got that game plan tucked into your tux. See you at the movies.

 

More? Find out what else there is to do in Toronto (hint: there’s a lot). Visit the Tourism Toronto website.

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