TIFF 2011 Survival Guide: Planning Properly
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TIFF 2011 Survival Guide: Planning Properly

Film festivals can be intimidating: here's our guide to getting through TIFF without losing your head.

During TIFF, cramming in like 300 films between September 8 and 18 can be terrifying. Unless you’re some sort of robot or sorcerer, you can’t possibly see everything. And that’s okay. But we’ve got some handy-dandy tips to make the whole experience more worthwhile.

Do It Buffet-Style

Whether you’re seeing five, 50, or 150 films (sorcerer!), it’s nice to draw from a variety of programs and genres. Not only are you more likely to happen upon something new and exciting, but you can spare your brain the stress of struggling with dense, challenging films all day. Bust up all those Masters screenings of Dardennes brothers and Bela Tarr films with something lighter, like Drive or Trespass or Killer Elite. Schedule a Mavericks or Canada First! feature into that block of Real to Reel docs. See something in the Midnight Madness programme: yes it’s late at night, but there’s no more fun experience at the festival than hooting and hollering and getting spooked with a bunch of likeminded, half-drunk (or whole-drunk) genre nerds. Try to spread your screenings across venues. Nothing is worse than feeling trapped in the Scotiabank Cineplex all day. And even the Lightbox’s super-comfy seats can breed atrophy after two consecutive screenings. Cast your net wide. Why not start by checking out our top 11 picks?

Plan Early and Breathe Easy

With a little bit of prep, seeing the films you want is fairly easy. Thankfully, TIFF’s website (though it tends to lag) can help you streamline this. The printable PDF schedule they released this year is especially nice, even if it will suck up all your ink (so print it at work, covertly). Even better is tiffr (which we reported on last TIFF) a third-party website that has proved invaluable for easily putting your schedule together. (Or, if you’re a Luddite, you can always use a pencil and paper.) If you’re purchasing single tickets, don’t pull your hair out. While galas and higher-profile events sell out, most screenings still have tickets available until the day of.


Part of the fun of film festivals is seeing bigger movies a few weeks before they come out in multiplexes. That way you can offer your opinion and people will be like, “How do you know?” and you can say, “Well, I caught it at TIFF,” and you’ll look like a real smarty-ass. But the problem is, precisely, that you’ll be able to see these films in multiplexes in a few weeks. And for cheaper. Look: we’d all like to see Killer Elite a week before it comes out. But you’re better served seeing something that won’t hit theatres for a while, if at all. This year, with the Lightbox in place and everything, the same logic applies to artier features. You may say, “Well, why would I see The Turin Horse when the Lightbox is just going to open it in two months?” To which we would say, “I don’t know man. We don’t know what the Lightbox is opening and when and nobody’s telling you to see The Turin Horse. Jeez.”

Get to Know the Programmers

While this comes as no surprise to festival veterans, it’s handy to know who selected the film you’re seeing. Check the TIFF program book or website to see who wrote the programming notes for a given film, which is usually a good sign of who selected it. You’ll soon be able to know which programmers your tastes align with, as well those with whom you don’t see eye to eye. Our favourites: Steve Gravestock (Canadian Features, Scandinavia), Noah Cowan (Future Projections, USA, Europe), Colin Geddes (Midnight Madness, USA, Europe, Asia), and Dimitri Epides (Mediterranean, Eastern Europe).

Don’t Kill Yourself

This is good advice in a literal sense. (Don’t commit ritual suicide during the film festival for some reason, please.) But more generally, try and pace yourself. Don’t plan for a 9 a.m. screening when you’re up until 2 a.m. the night before with a hootin’ and hollerin’ Midnight Madness crowd. If you’re one of the maniacs seeing 50 movies during the Fest, make sure to grab naps, pack some Visine, and schedule in a little time to grab post-screening drinks with fellow filmgoers. And it’s hard, but make sure to eat decently well. Popcorn and Coke Zero is not a meal.