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How to do the Toronto International Film Festival in Two Easy Steps

Posts are getting scarce – friends and family are sticking “have you seen this blogger?” posters around the neighborhood – it must be time for the Toronto International Film Festival!

The question I most commonly get asked this time of year comes in many different flavours but essentially boils down to “how can an average person who just wants to see a cool film check out the film festival?” TIFF is a daunting animal, and the people who “do” it (professionals and cineastes alike) can spend a lot of time getting passes, entering lotteries, scheduling viewings, juggling venues, dropping a small fortune on gala tickets, schmoozing the people with party invites… it’s (no joke) a full-time job for some folks who make it yearly business trip/vacation (just starting chatting with people in line for movies, a practice I fully endorse, to get some great stories of hard-core movie-watching dedication).

Relax average public, I have a hassle free two step process that will give you as good (or better) a film festival experience than 90% of attendees. I won’t even make you send away any self-addressed stamped envelopes to get it.

Step 1: Any day of the festival go to the film festival’s “Best Bets” page. Pick any film on the page.

Step 2: Go to the appropriate theater at the appropriate time, buy a ticket at the theatre box-office, and enjoy the film.

When most people see that the festival has 300+ films, they worry that they’re not going to see the “best” film, or the “right” film. But the real secret of film festivals (Toronto especially) are that there are no bad films. The festival programmers work the entire year to try and find the best possible films in the world. There is not a single film in the entire festival line-up that is a “bad” film. Some may not be to your individual taste – but you could throw a dart at the calendar and guarantee that you’d get a finely crafted, thought provoking piece of cinema from a talented artist.

Once you get that out of the way, the festival “Bets Bets” list is the obvious place to start (these are the films where, on the day of screening, for whatever reason, you can likely get a walk-up ticket at the theater). Most likely these films are not going to be playing in your local multiplex any time soon, and may, in fact, never come out on television or video (not because they’re bad, or not interesting, there’s only so many foreign films, documentaries, and other niche product that the market can support each year and sadly, some real gems, fall through the cracks).

I can’t tell you the number of brilliant documentaries, reflationary foreign films, or up and coming superstars I’ve discovered through the “Best Bets” list. In fact my brother and I were just eating dinner talking about one of our all time favourite Thai films “Citizen Dog” which was, I beleive, a “Best Bet” flick.

So quit spending your time with an excel spreadsheet of possible red-carpet sightings, and instead spend that time to get out to the theaters.

I’ll be back here to blather on more in a couple of days (although I am working on a brief post about the latest conference board of Canada culture report that I’d like to get up before the festival consumes my soul for a few days..)

See you at the movies!