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TIFF’s Marathon Man

60 films in 10 days is no sweat for Jason Marcel. He's one of TIFF's most dedicated filmgoers.

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Jason Marcel on a bed of movies. Photo by Nikita Rowe.

There’s a group of dedicated Toronto International Film Festival moviegoers that late film critic Roger Ebert liked to call “The Trail Mix Brigade.” Subsisting on a diet of twigs and berries, they hop bleary-eyed from one theatre to another in an effort to catch as many films as possible over the festival’s week-and-a-half duration. For nearly two decades, Jason Marcel has been one of the brigade’s proudest members. He has gone from seeing just ten films during his first TIFF to a record high, last year, of 60.

“It was only after I got here that it started getting big,” Marcel recalls of the festival’s formative years. He came to Toronto in 1995 to study theatre at York University, but spent frosh week skipping electives to catch films like Unstrung Heroes and Leaving Las Vegas. It was the beginning of an ongoing love affair with TIFF. Over the years, his movie list has ballooned. He once even manged to catch seven films over the course of a day—a mythical feat.

To help combat fatigue, Marcel advocates a diet that steers clear of carbs or caffeine in favor of water and the aforementioned trail mix. He also makes sure to pack some Advil for cricks in the neck, an inevitable result of days spent staring up at a screen. Toothpicks and dental floss are also helpful because, Marcel says, “you don’t want to be picking at something in your teeth the whole time.”

Because Marcel has been working part-time throughout his years attending the festival—including a few years spent at the Varsity theatre, where he was affectionately known as “MovieJay” to staff and customers—it’s never been a problem for him to secure the necessary time off come the first week of September. After covering other people’s more traditional vacations throughout the summer, clearing some festival time is only a matter of temporarily rearranging his priorities. Or, as Marcel describes it, “I would just reorganize my life around it.” He now works as a copywriter and karaoke host.

During his time at the festival, Marcel has learned a few tactics for gaining entry to sold-out shows. While Craigslist and Kijiji can be valuable resources, he also suggests checking at the theatre box office on the same day as a screening, because blocks of tickets sometimes go on sale at the last minute. And of course, there’s always the kindness of strangers. “Always have your money ready,” is an adage Marcel lives by. Buying tickets on the street from fellow festivalgoers has gotten him into countless films.

He’s had many memorable experiences during his time attending TIFF. He fondly recalls 1999′s festival, when he saw The Straight Story, Snow Falling on Cedars, and The Limey in one tremendous movie-going day. He also remembers walking out of a screening of Last Orders at The Uptown in 2001 and crowding around a block of TVs, where he found out about the 9/11 attacks.

As for this year, Marcel is particularly impressed by the slate of Canadian films, including a double bill from director Denis Villeneuve: Prisoners and Enemy. But the one film he’s most looking forward to is Hirokazu Kore-Eda’s Like Father, Like Son. “It made me think of Roger [Ebert],” Marcel says. “I know it would have been one of his top picks.”

Marcel has recently launched a website where people can find out his impressions of this year’s TIFF line-up, as he watches it.

Want more TIFF coverage? Torontoist‘s film festival hub is right over here.

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