How to do the Toronto Film Festival - Real Tips For Real People #1

First of a four-part series

The 2014 Toronto International Film Festival runs from September 4-14. I've attended 70 film festivals since the start of 2006, but none as prestigious or breathtaking in scope as this one. I saw over 225 movies there from 2006-2013, and many of my year-end Top Picks across all festivals over the past few years (out of over 1420 in total) came out of TIFF.

In my book, it's the top festival in the Western Hemisphere, second in the world only to Cannes. TIFF was ranked #3 among the Top 50 Film Festivals in a recent survey by the editors of Indiewire. Many movies have their World or North American premieres there. Almost every major Academy Award-winning motion picture of the past few years debuted in Toronto.

The lineup was rolled out in waves, starting with 59 Galas and Special Presentations, 45 titles in the Midnight Madness, TIFF Docs, Vanguard, and Masters sections, 27 Canadian narrative and documentary features, the Short Cuts Canada section, seven additional titles in the Galas section, 17 in Special Presentations, and 51 films in the Contemporary World Cinema and Speakers programs, the Wavelengths section (including four shorts programs, five medium length groupings, and 13 features), City to City (eight features), Cinematheque (six features), Future Projections (five total programs), and the new Short Cuts International section. Last week's final announcement included 29 more films in the Discovery section (10 Canadian titles were previously announced), three features and six "Conversations with..." in Mavericks, and four features in the TIFF Kids section. Additional titles were also announced in Special Presentations (three), Masters (four), TIFF Docs (two), Vanguard (one), and Contemporary World Cinema (two). The Next Wave and Manifesto programs were also unveiled, both consisting of previously announced films. The festival also released a Fact Sheet and list of expected guests.

All festivals can be challenging to navigate, especially for novices. The Toronto International Film Festival is no exception. And over the years the event has become bigger and bolder. There are more venues, the movies are buzzier, and the stars are shinier. As the festival has grown so has interest in it from the media, and much of the world's press descends on this metropolitan city on the shore of Lake Ontario every September to write as many words and take as many pictures as they are physically able. I'm one of them, and will be there with the kind of blanket coverage you can count on. And while TIFF boasts many exciting and fun events other than films, I'm mainly there for the movies and will try to see as many as possible.

Of course, there is a basic conflict there. In previous years, attending screenings would not lend itself to posting reports online (unless you bring a large staff -- it's just me, yo). I had precious little time to blog the way I would normally like. Twitter has changed all that. Several years ago I began live tweeting from festivals. Not only is it more immediate, obviously, than writing articles at the end of the day, but it also allows the reader to feel as though they're right there beside me. At least that's what many have said, so it's become my reporting medium of choice. But I still do try to find the time to take photos and videos, conduct interviews, and write reviews for the films I attend, as time permits. I'll be doing the same at TIFF 2014 on my Twitter and here at

Many articles show up at this time of year about "how to do the festival." Some are very good. Many simply appear to be marketing tools. Best gyms? Are you serious?!? If you have time to work out you don't belong there. So, as I do for every festival I attend, I'll attempt to offer some real tips for real people, the festivalgoers who want to pack as many events into their days in Toronto as possible and not end up in the hospital.

So let's begin with some generalities. All film festivals are identical. But all film festivals are different. Conflicted, you say? Well, no, not really. The basic experience is the same -- you just have to fill in the blanks. You arrive, get to the hotel (unless you're lucky enough to live there), and plan your first day. You find the optimum route to the festival locations, a convenient place to park (if you have a car), and the best way to get around from venue to venue.

You attend your first screening, and learn the modus operandi for waiting in line, entering the theater, and finding the best seat to view both the Q&A as well as the film equally well (not always as easy as it sounds). This may vary from venue to venue, so with each successive movie at each "new" venue the process is repeated.

Eventually you will, hopefully, get to know the staffers so well that they greet you by name when you arrive. Maybe they even have your favorite seat saved. Maybe some fresh hot poutine. Well, that's never happened, but one can hope. This is assuming the same people work the same venue each day, which is usually the case. That's one of the best things about festivals. Of course, perhaps even more important, you need to know where to go for sustenance -- coffee, food (well, energy bars, usually), and other (ahem) personal needs. (Speaking of which, do not ask where the bathroom is. You'll get a funny look, and you may be asked why you'd want to bathe in the middle of the day. This is Canada. They speak a different language. Ask for the washroom.) It only takes about a day or so to have your routine down to a science. Then you just sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride.

This will be my ninth year covering this event and, while there are certainly veterans older than me, I've learned a bit over the years and, as I did last year, I'll continue posting a series of tips over the next few days in chronological order, beginning with the moment you enter the theater and sit down.

Some of my favorite sites for film information, trailers, links, helpful search parameters, scheduling tools, and more are and I couldn't put my calendar together without them. Once again this year, the TIFF Midnight Madness Blog's Sanjay S. Rajput has a set of tips on how to, literally, navigate the festival (including some tasty graphics).

The schedule including dates, times, and locations of screenings is now online along with the official list of expected guests. The program book can be picked up now the Festival Box Office, 225 King Street West inside the Metro Centre. A special section about TIFF will appear in the Toronto Star this Thursday, August 28, which will include the full film schedule. Single tickets will go on sale next Sunday, August 31 by cash, debit, or online at, by phone at 416-599-TIFF or toll free at 1-888-599-8433 (10 AM to 7 PM daily), or in person at the Festival Box Office, 225 King Street West inside the Metro Centre. Everything you could ever want to know about getting tickets is posted HERE.

Coming up in Part's time to go to the movies -- the rules, etiquette, and secrets of what happens from the moment you enter the theater until you leave. Then in Part 3, I'll help guide you through the logistics of getting from place to place in order to calculate travel time between venues. In Part 4 we'll discuss the time-honored tradition of waiting in line -- where to go and how long it will take, venue by venue.


Here is the complete online schedule of films with screening dates, times, and venues:



Here is the complete 27-page color-coded calendar with all dates, times, and venues, including an A-Z index of all films by title with all screenings to view, save, download, and print:



Larry Richman

Larry Richman

For 20 years I was a professional in the entertainment industry, from commercial broadcast radio in America's fourth largest market to band management to record production. But my passion is independent film, and I spend much of the year traveling to film festivals to see indies and meet the actors, directors, and others responsible for creating them. I'm a writer, photographer, and videographer, currently serving as Senior Vice President for Media & Technology and Public Relations at PROnetworks as well as Editor at

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