How to do the Toronto Film Festival - Real Tips For Real People #4

Last of a four-part series

In How to do the Toronto Film Festival - Real Tips For Real People #1, I offered some general advice for travelers headed to the 39th Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), which runs from September 4-14. For those needing selection advice, I also posted a handy guide, How to decide what to see at the Toronto International Film Festival.

In Real Tips For Real People #2 we went over some of the rules, etiquette, and secrets of what happens from the moment you enter the theater until you leave. Then in Real Tips For Real People #3, I helped guide you through the logistics of getting from place to place in order to calculate travel time between venues.

The final consideration in deciding how big a gap to allow between the end of one screening and start of another can be summed up in three words: waiting in line (or queueing up, for some of you), and I'll cover that in this set of tips. When I talk to people who haven't been to TIFF (or any festival, for that matter) the term "waiting in line" usually elicits looks of horror. But to those of us who've been there, the reaction is more of a big grin.

You see, waiting in line is a time-honored tradition which ranks right up there with Thanksgiving dinners, family reunions, and holiday barbecues. It's a time when festival veterans meet up with folks they may only see once a year, and make new friends whom they hope to see in future Septembers. Waiting in line also offers one of the best opportunities to fill out your schedule with one question posed to a line mate: "So what have you liked so far?"

1) First, some non-venue-specific generalities. Each location handles it differently but there are usually two lines: one for ticket holders and the "rush line," for those who will fill any empty seats just prior to the screening. Ticket holders get in first. Once they're seated rush line patrons may purchase individual tickets and take any empty seats remaining at that point. The official festival policy for ticket holders states, "Admission is guaranteed only up until 15 minutes before the scheduled start of the screening. Latecomers are admitted strictly at the discretion of staff at the venue. There is no admission 10 minutes after the screening starts."  For the purposes of this article I'll assume you're a ticket holder or joining the rush line, as the procedure for getting tickets is itself worthy of an entire article.

2) Upon arrival at the venue you should immediately be able to see where the lines are located and which is which. If not, there are usually clearly marked signs and there is always a multitude of volunteers who really are extremely helpful. If you're lost or confused, do not hesitate to ask for help. They usually have the answer and, if not, can get on the horn and flag down someone who does. Chances are the people in line also know what line they're in.

3) Take your place at the end of the appropriate line and try to spark up a conversation with someone ahead of you (or behind you, as you surely won't be last for long). Even if you're with one or more people it's a smart thing to get to know the folks around you, especially since you may be standing together (or sitting) for a long, long time.

4) Normal social rules don't necessarily apply here. It is generally not considered rude to "overhear" someone else's conversation about a particular film and ask a question or give your opinion about it. Of course there are exceptions, but of the hundreds of times I've done it I rarely recall anyone treating me with disdain for poking my head in to discuss a movie. Likewise, you should expect others to hear what you are saying and be prepared for them to chime in. It goes without saying that the reaction you get will vary if the person hasn't seen anything yet or hated everything they have seen. It's okay to slink away and slyly turn to someone else. Just be sure to avoid spoilers. Saying anything that might give away important plot points for those who might be within earshot and haven't yet seen the film being discussed is a big "no-no." Everyone waiting in line is part of one big community. (I've actually waited in line and joined in a rousing chorus of "Kum Ba Yah," but that was at a Midnight Madness screening at the Ryerson and those patrons, myself included, have their own unique subculture.)

5) Naturally, some prefer to simply carry a good book or read the morning paper. But you'd be surprised how fast the time flies when you're engaged in conversation about what you've seen and liked, didn't like, or hope to see. Some of my favorite films from festivals past were called to my attention from discussions while waiting in line. I've also learned what to avoid. I can't stress it any more: I have never turned to someone standing next to me and asked, "So what have you seen/liked/not liked so far?" and not gotten into an engaging conversation. Even folks who look like they've had the worst day can be the most pleasant when approached. I've made some great friends this way and lifelong relationships can be forged while waiting in line.

6) Now for some venue-specific tips. Like my earlier posts, this is not meant to be all-encompassing, but just some points based on my own experiences at these venues. Some rules apply to all locations. For example, the larger the party the less likely you'll find seats together, and the earlier you'll want to arrive (and the longer you'll wait in line) if you do want to. If you're solo or don't mind sitting apart you can afford to arrive later (and not wait as long).

7) Of the two multiplexes utilized by the festival, my personal favorite is the Scotiabank at Richmond and John Streets, which I spoke about at length in the previous article. Outside the building you'll find festival volunteers clearly separating those entering and exiting. After passing through the doors you'll be directed up one of the longest single escalators in North America. You're even entertained with a sound and light show as you ascend. The descent is a bit more vertigo-inducing but this video may help you adjust. The trip up or down takes over a minute. You'll then walk through an intimate circular lobby with a food court and even a small café with hot drinks and tables. They also have a wall of Coke Freestyle machines which, for the uninitiated, allow you to dispense over 100 drink combinations.

The Scotiabank has 14 screens, including one IMAX (#12). From Friday, September 5 through Friday, September 12, press and industry screenings will occupy most days until mid-late afternoon but there will often be one or two houses with public screenings starting between noon and four. Several houses won't have any public screenings at all on various days but the venue will still host close to 30 public screenings a day through Friday, September 12, with nine houses showing three or four films each evening. For the final weekend of the festival, Saturday, September 13 and Sunday, September 14, public screenings will run in 12 houses. Most will have five screenings from morning to night. Depending on the theater, the line will either snake bank-style around ropes outside the house doors or along the walls towards the rear. At first glance it looks like mayhem but is actually very well-organized. It's quite easy to leave the line and come back for any reason as neighbors generally are happy to hold your place. The popcorn and poutine may be irresistible. A caveat: a few years ago, when only four screens were used here (see my Yonge & Dundas story in Part 3), it was easy to manage four lines. Now, with as many as 14 screens in use on any given day, with nine to 12 for the public, it's difficult to organize so many people just outside the theatre doors. Some ticket holders now need to wait outside the building (on the opposite side of the doors from where rush lines are held) until there's enough room to head up the escalator.

Seating capacities are #1-558, #2-490, #3-392, #4-391, #5-137, #6-140, #7-185, #8-187, #9-195, #10-232, #11-231, #12-456 (IMAX), #13-318, and #14-309. With the above caveat in mind -- in my experience the lines here are not as long as at other venues, perhaps because it's used for many of the lower-profile low-budget indies and foreign films. In most cases if I showed up an hour beforehand I'd be first in line. A wait of a half hour to 45 minutes is usually sufficient. I've staggered in ten minutes prior to the start and still gotten a good seat, although I don't recommend it and the festival does not guarantee admission less than 15 minutes beforehand. Of course, all this varies depending on the popularity of the film, size of the house, time of day, and number of screenings the picture has had so far. In my opinion these are the coziest lines because they're indoors and comfortable.

8) Almost as much a favorite now as ScotiabankTIFF Bell Lightbox opened four years ago towards the end of the festival. I did manage to make it for several screenings in its inaugural year and a small handful in 2011, when the venue was so new that staffers were still trying to determine the logistics of shepherding filmgoers into the theatres. By 2012, the festival had ironed out the kinks and things ran like clockwork. Four houses are used for public screenings (#1-4), with seating capacities of 558, 490, 225, and 152. All four screens will host five to six films a day from morning to night. The lines here are relatively short and kept inside the building, just outside the theatre entrances. Depending on the size of the house, patrons either snake around velvet ropes or line up alongside the theatre doors and down the ramps. Signage is vital as the building presents itself as a maze of ramps and staircases. It can be a challenge navigating your way to the appropriate locations. But an abundance of volunteers will guide you to the correct line. The acoustics are a marvel. I've never been in any theatre that deadened echoes as much as this one. The sound from the speakers is shockingly pure and unadulterated. Festivalgoers should enjoy this venue. I'd recommend arriving no less than a half hour to 45 minutes before start time.

9) If only by virtue of the mathematics involved, most people will see the bulk of their films at the above multiplexes. But there are a handful of other venues, proscenium arch theatres with stages and converted auditoriums, which host many festival events. These include some of the most high-profile ones on the calendar. The biggest red carpet premieres take place at Roy Thomson Hall, which hosts all the first "Premium" screenings of titles in the Galas program. "Roy" has expanded its mission this year, with many second screenings of Gala selections as well as titles in other sections. Many big buzz films are also held at the Visa Screening Room (Elgin Theatre) with Premium as well as Regular screenings. Other theatres that host Premium red carpet events along with Regular screenings include the Winter Garden Theatre, Princess of Wales Theatre and Ryerson Theatre. A small handful of Premium screenings will take place this year at Isabel Bader Theatre and TIFF's newest venue, Glenn Gould Studio at the CBC.

10) Roy Thomson Hall is used almost exclusively for the Galas section (with the exceptions noted in the above paragraph), including the official Opening and Closing Night Films. It's the largest venue at the festival with 2630 seats. Located to the south at King and Simcoe Streets, security is extremely tight here with the presence of VIPs. There are separate entrances for certain festival donors and honored guests. You'll likely pass through several security checkpoints before being directed to whatever line you need to wait in. Lines snake around ropes on the sidewalk and can be quite long. At least an hour wait is certainly a good bet given the popularity of these films.

11) The Visa Screening Room (Elgin) and Winter Garden Theatre sit double-decker in a building above Queen on Yonge Street, the last remaining stacked theatres in the world. The Winter Garden sits seven floors above the Elgin. Organizers try to keep ticket holders standing in single file heading north on Yonge, around the corner to the east and back down south behind the theatre. The rush line begins on the other side of the doors and heads south on Yonge, then east on Queen St. The 1561-seat Elgin is large enough to accommodate many more people than would appear to be waiting in line. It can be quite deceptive because a line which appears to be interminably long may not even fill half the theatre once you get inside. Still, I'd allow at least 45 minutes to an hour depending on the popularity of the film, time of day, and whether or not this is a Premium or Regular screening. There's an advance line for Visa Infinite cardholders at some screenings which runs parallel to the regular ticket holder line. The 992-seat Winter Garden is smaller and more intimate than the Elgin, but it will take you a few minutes to get there via a series of escalators and stairs. If there are films at both the Elgin and Winter Garden in close proximity (they do try to stagger them) parallel lines will form on the sidewalk. For some reason it seemed to rain the heaviest when waiting in line at this venue but I doubt that was intended

12) Princess of Wales Theatre was added to the venue lineup just a few years ago and almost had a very short life. But, like the proverbial cat, POW has gotten a reprieve. An on-again off-again plan to raze the block and built a mega-complex of theatres, shops, offices, and housing has been threatening to shut this venue. In the meantime, it has become the home of many high-profile premieres. With a seating capacity of 1729, this elegant lady is located at 300 King Street, less than one block east of TIFF Bell Lightbox. Ticket holders begin queueing up just to the right of the doors, heading east on King, then north on Ed Mirvish Way, zig-zagging west on Pearl for a short way, picking up across the street on Pearl heading east, back to Ed Mirvish Way (well, at this point it's called Duncan Street), and north on Duncan. The rush line heads west on King beginning to the left of the main doors. Like the Elgin, folks tend to show up early here, especially as it's so centrally located to the festival hub. I'd allow at least 45 minutes to an hour depending on the popularity of the film, time of day, and whether or not this is a Premium or Regular screening        

13) Isabel Bader Theatre is an auditorium on the University of Toronto's Victoria Campus at 93 Charles Street West, which is one block south of Bloor and just east of Queen's Park. Capacity is 500. Lines are outside on the sidewalk, which tends to get muddy after a rain. Both the sidewalk and street are quite narrow and it's easy to slip one way into the street or the other way into the grass/dirt/mud. Be sure to look down. Ticket holders head west on Charles towards Queen's Park. The rush line is on the opposite side, heading east on Charles. Lines here aren't too long, in most cases, and a half hour to 45 minutes should suffice.

14) Jackman Hall is located in AGO (Art Gallery of Ontario) at 317 Dundas Street West, a five-minute walk west from the St. Patrick subway station. The theatre entrance is actually on McCaul just below Dundas. The line is tucked away down a set of steps in a covered space set below the sidewalk. The rush line is at sidewalk level a bit farther south. The ticket holder waiting area tends to be quite cozy as some of the more off-beat films call this venue their home. The 202-seat house is a live performance space with great sight lines and acoustics. Like Bader, this relatively cozy, slightly out of the way venue shouldn't require a wait of more than a half hour.

15) A new venue was added in 2012, the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema, at 506 Bloor Street West near the Bathurst station of the Bloor-Danforth Subway (or get out at the Spadina stop of the Yonge-University-Spadina line and walk a couple of blocks to the west). This theatre is anything but "new," however, having started its life in 1913 as the Madison Picture Palace. It was used for the festival in the 80s and 90s as the Bloor Cinema. The newly renovated facility has a seating capacity of 710. Ticket holders stand adjacent to the theatre doors heading east on Bloor. The rush line starts at the entrance and heads west. The schedule here has expanded with five to six films a day so it should be more popular than ever...and, no, they don't only show documentaries. Being the most remote of all the theatres, wait times shouldn't be too long. I'd allow a half hour to 45 minutes.

16) Glenn Gould Studio is this year's new venue, so little can be said about logistics until we arrive and see how the festival handles it. This 339-seat venue will only be used for three Mavericks Conversations on opening weekend (with industry programming the rest of the fest). It is located inside the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Centre) at 250 Front Street West, one and a half blocks south of TIFF Bell Lightbox. It is generally used for live concerts and boasts excellent acoustics.

17) Which brings us to...Ryerson. Located at 43 Gerrard Street East on the Ryerson University Campus, this auditorium holds 1250 and hosts many high-profile films. The festival has programmed a handful of Premium screenings there and "Regular" (second) screenings of Galas that have debuted at Roy Thomson Hall. It is also the home of Midnight Madness.

Ticket holder lines at Ryerson form outside the entrance and wind east down Gerrard, south around the corner down Church, and then west on Gould behind the building. Like the Elgin, this can be quite deceptive as it usually appears there are many more people waiting in line than the theatre can hold when, in reality, I've been almost completely around the block and still entered the auditorium to see it half full. The good news about waiting in line at Ryerson is that it's the one venue where patrons can actually sit. A low brick wall surrounds the building and is just perfect for reading, eating, or conversing with fellow line mates. The rush line begins opposite the ticket holders and heads west down Gerrard.

My first year at TIFF I actually spent more time at the Ryerson than any other venue, so I grew quite fond of it and it's certainly my favorite non-multiplex theatre. Being a Midnight Madness fan also gives this venue a feel that no other has. MM is one of only a few sections for which the festival sells dedicated passes, so patrons return every night (and every year) and forge relationships which last long after the festival is over. Even those who only attend a few MM screenings during the week will find camaraderie among attendees which cannot be matched at any other venue for any other screenings. MM programmer Colin Geddes runs a festival-within-a-festival that hosts some of the best films I've ever seen at TIFF. Experience it and you'll understand.

As a rule of thumb I have always allowed the longest amount of waiting time for Ryerson screenings. I've arrived two or even three hours before the screening to find people already sitting on the wall. But an hour is usually a good bet. Like the Elgin, the length of the line is so deceptive compared to the size of the hall that no matter how long the line or the wait it's usually not that hard to get a good seat once inside the cavernous auditorium. But again, this depends on the popularity of the film, time of day, and number of screenings it may already have had.

18) Add it all up and I'd say that you should expect to wait in line up to an hour for many screenings if you want to be assured of a good seat. 45 minutes is probably okay. Anything less than a half hour is chancy. That's usually when ticketholders begin entering the theater. And about ten minutes before the screening they begin filling empty seats with rush line patrons. Even if you have a ticket and show up after the seats are filled you may be out of luck. I've seen it happen. Get there early.

19) So taking all three basic considerations into account when deciding how much time is needed from the moment one film ends until your next screening begins:

Allow ten minutes to a half hour for any Q&A. Average is 15-20 minutes.

Allow ten minutes to a half hour for travel time. Average is 15-20 minutes.

Allow 30 minutes to an hour for waiting in line.

Bottom line: the amount of time to allow between the end of one film (when the credits roll) and start of another is a minimum of 50 minutes to an hour, maximum two hours in the worst case scenario. Average for me is closer to 75 minutes.

Keep in mind that TIFF's official schedule grid includes only the film's actual running time. You should add at least 20-30 minutes for any possible intro and Q&A. Then just add travel time (15-20 minutes) and waiting in line (30 minutes to an hour) and you're set. The actual running time of the movies is also listed in the official film guides.

Most importantly, keep in mind all the variables I've noted: distance between venues, time of day, number of screenings the film may already have had, its popularity, and size of the house, as well as your desire to get the seat(s) you want.

On the other hand, if you're like me and want to see as many films as possible regardless of health concerns, then join me in what I like to call "festival mode." Plan your schedule carefully. Allow 20 minutes after a film ends and 30 minutes waiting time before the next one. Then just add travel time to that. You'll get better at it as the week goes on, and share your own tips next year.


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 appeared in the Thursday, August 28 edition of the Toronto Star, which includes the full film schedule. Single tickets will go on sale this 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.


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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