TIFF Survival Guide

It can be at once overwhelming and exhilarating, a mélange of anticipated movies, lavish parties, celebrity, beauty, and excess. It’s the start of September in Ontario’s capital, which means it’s time for the Toronto International Film Festival in all its excitement and glory. And unpredictable weather.

It’s an event that has evolved into one of the city’s most anticipated yearly happenings, a celebration of entertainment that ushers in never-before-seen films, plenty of filmmakers and actors, and lots of tourism. The casual observer may take in a film or two here and there to get a taste of the experience, but for those who want to dive in, to jump into the sea of cinema and enjoy every last drop, you’ll have to be acutely prepared.

As a frequenter with a keen understanding of the movie side of things (I don’t get invited to parties), here are some tested and true tips to help you maximize your experience and spend your time, money, and energy wisely, allowing for the most satisfying time at TIFF.

We’ve already talked about how to see films and what to take in, but let’s go deeper, for those of you committed to ten days of film consumption had best be prepared.

Study and Plan

You can’t do this blindly by the seat of your pants, though it would sure be entertaining to watch, and who knows how the actual movie watching experience would go. It’s probably best to know what you’re doing. Have a plan of action that includes time to get from theatre to theatre, as well as intervals for eating and actually seeing daylight. These things take tolls. Staying properly nourished with the right amount of sun is imperative to enjoying films.

Be mindful of not only the when and where of screenings, but also the what. That is, just how intense is the film expected to be? Try to not view a lot of depressing things in a row. Some films can be especially emotionally and mentally draining, while others take time to digest and some are simply really long. They might be getting great reviews, but perhaps it’s not worth it to see Elle and The Salesman and Anatomy of Violence back to back to back (I don’t know if that’s actually possible, but you get the idea). Maybe bring some alcohol with you. I’m not recommending you sneak booze into the theatre, but you know, maybe it’ll help.

Ditch Your Friends

I’m sure they are lovely people, but they are only holding you back. That’s right –– get rid of your movie-going buddies and catch up with them the week after the Fest. Coordinating anything with friends is tough enough without incorporating very specific movie schedules, higher ticket prices, rush lines, crowded theatres and, oh right, a selection of some 200 films from which to choose.

Drop the extra weight and go it solo. It will be easier to get where you want to go, secure food and drink, race between theatres, and adapt to all the changes that will inevitably happen during TIFF. And do you really want to save seats for someone else, or try to find two empties next to each other? What’s more, it’s not unlikely that someone may have a sole extra ticket for you on the street. It may happen that you hate a film and want to walk out. It may happen that you run into Ryan Gosling and he is taken by your beauty and wants to go grab an intimate coffee nearby. I’m ready for that situation, and you should be too.

Pack a Bag

Chances are, it’s going to be really hot during the festival. Failing that, there could be a rainstorm. Or maybe it will snow. And who knows what it’ll be like in the theatre. A change of clothes and some deodorant can go a long way to navigating a lengthy day of variable weather, crowded streets, cool theatres, and random deluges. It’s a lot to prepare for. Some snacks are key too in order to avoid getting hangry and yelling at people in line for talking about a movie you’ve yet to see.

Trickier still is the change of day into night. Movies may give way to dinner and secret awesome cool parties that I wish I were invited to. Best advice is to not dress for the movies as you know them. Instead, dress as if you’re going out and will be socializing, meeting people, and having a night of it. Better yet, dress like you’re going to run into Ryan Gosling and he’s taking you out.

Trust No One

Inevitably, there is an audience for every movie, and someone, somewhere, is going to say that this one film is good even when no one else does. But what do they know? Maybe something, but do you really have time to drill people with questions, analyze their tastes, and see if their judgment is really worthy of a couple hours of your time and however much money a ticket costs?

Everyone has an opinion, and there isn’t enough time to listen and register. Do not trust strangers when it comes to films! Trust yourself. Naturally, when you’re in line or sitting in a theatre (alone, as you are), people are going to start talking to you about movies. These questions will come up: What have you seen? What’s good? Where’s Ryan Gosling? While you may be tempted to heed the words of strangers, kind and pleasant smelling as they may be, don’t be swayed.

Embrace the Chaos

TIFF is not for the rigid, easily annoyed, impatient, or stubborn. Lines will be long. It will get confusing, people will chew food with their mouths open, and it could be really hot outside (and really cold inside). Not only will the lines be long, but there will be a lot of them, and you’re going to be asking the friendly volunteers the same questions that they’ve gotten every minute since they started their shifts, and that may make you feel awkward and insecure.

That is to say, it’s a ripe environment for people to get persnickety. This is not to suggest that Festivalgoers will be cranky, but sometimes a lack of food and too much sun and all that waiting can take a toll. So set an example and be ready. At the same time, read your audience: please don’t break out into song to get people happy or something silly like that. Just chill and know that you’re in the same boat as everyone else.

Thus, take extra mental and emotional preparations to deal with things that would otherwise annoy you. Nothing should surprise you at the festival –– even meeting Ryan Gosling.


Anthony Marcusa
Anthony Marcusa is a Toronto-based freelance journalist whose writing dabbles in film, TV, music, sports, and relationships – though not necessarily in that order. He’s simultaneously youthfully idealistic and curmudgeonly cynical. But he’s always curious.