TIFF 2013 is going to be huge and overwhelming. Here's how to get the most out of it.
The hugeness of the Toronto International Film Festival is its defining trait. From its physical sprawl across Toronto’s downtown core, to its almost obscenely stacked guest list to, of course, its seemingly endless schedule of never-before-seen films, it’s a cinephile’s ultimate playground—and an intimidating one at that. Here are some ways to get the most out of TIFF while minimizing potential headaches.
Make the Most of Your Waits
At TIFF (and most big-ticket film festivals), lining up is simply part and parcel of the experience. Whether you’ve already secured your tickets, or you’re planning on heading down to the box office at 7 a.m. (when tickets for previously “off sale” titles are released) hoping to score same-day gold, you’re going to be spending quite a lot of time idling about with a mix of hardcore cinephiles, curious dabblers, and insidery types not inclined to wake up early enough for the press and industry screenings. Since queuing up is an inevitability, why not try to make friends? You are, after all, surrounded by like-minded individuals (and/or the occasional unsuspecting septuagenarians heading into the new Catherine Breillat film). If you absolutely must keep your social interactions to a minimum, of course, online ticketing can help with that.
Hit the Rush Lines
If you don’t want to wake up early for same-day tickets from the festival box office, rushing is a good way to gain last-minute entry into the screening of your choice. It can be a stressful experience if you’re desperate not to be screwed out of a screening, but if you do it correctly you’ll almost always be successful. The concept is relatively simple: just show up to the screening venue early and stand on the rush line. If there are any empty seats at showtime, TIFF volunteers will sell a corresponding number of tickets on the spot.
Always keep in mind that screenings on weekdays and the fest’s closing weekend are (in general) much more sparsely attended than weekend screenings. Second and third screenings of films also tend to draw smaller crowds. Take note of the venue and seat count, and factor in the all-important buzz level. No matter what the circumstance, though, aim to be half an hour early, at least. If you’re going to make a go at a particularly popular title, try to have a backup screening lined up at a nearby venue. After all, you’ve soldiered out with the express purpose of seeing a film, and often the less-buzzed-about films wind up being superior.
Film selection is the most important factor for any festivalgoer, and every viewer has different priorities. If you still have selections to make as part of a pre-purchased ticket package, or if you have plans to buy same-day, remember: there is life after TIFF. As usual, several big-name titles (such as Gravity and Rush) will be in wide release very shortly after the fest. Many more titles will be arriving by year’s end. Sure, there’s something to be said for the excitement of seeing an anticipated work as early as possible (particularly in a packed house with an excited audience), but one of the greatest joys of any film festival should be the thrill of discovery. Take some chances! One of my most memorable TIFF screenings ever was of Koen Mortier’s haunted, intense terrorism drama, 22nd of May. After its 2010 festival debut, it never even landed a North American DVD release, let alone theatrical distribution. Of the hundreds of features at TIFF, a few odd gems will inevitably fall through the cracks, and there’s a particular satisfaction in seeing a film you may never have the opportunity to see again.
You may be tempted to select a particular screening or title because of the post-screening Q&A lineup. This is usually a mistake. Revelatory Q&As are very few and far between at any festival, and TIFF is no exception. Occasionally you’ll get to enjoy a combative filmmaker engaging for the first time with an audience who’s digesting his or her new film—Harmony Korine’s post-Trash Humpers Q&A, for instance, was one for the ages—but for the most part, these conversations stay brief, surface-level, and generic. If you’re really dead-set on seeing your favorite director or performer in the flesh, then keep the Q&As in mind by all means, but keep any expectations you might have in check.
Above all else, remember that amidst the crowds, the clatter, and the tireless Oscar prognostication, the important thing is that there are in all likelihood many, many great films to be seen and appreciated this year. Film festivals are the last, greatest source for truly communal filmgoing, and long after the last “y’arr” (the traditional audience response to TIFF’s pre-screening anti-piracy warning) has faded, it’s the films you’ll remember, not the lineups or ticketing headaches.