How to do the Toronto International Film Festival - Real Tips For Real People #3 Third 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 36th Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), which runs from September 8-18. For those deciding what to see, I also posted a handy guide, How to decide what to see at the Toronto International Film Festival. Then in How to do the Toronto Film Festival - 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.

Now you're ready to move on to the next screening. Hopefully you've allowed enough time, and that's trickier than you may realize. There are three basic considerations when deciding how much time is needed from the moment one film ends until your next screening begins. The first I discussed last week -- the Q&A. Allow for anywhere from ten minutes to a half hour for that. Average is 15-20 minutes. The second consideration is travel time. I'll cover that in this entry.
Note that this isn't intended as a comprehensive guide to transportation for every logistical possibility -- TIFF utilizes ten venues with 26 screens at sites scattered throughout the downtown area. Truthfully, a good map showing all the festival theatres and knowledge of the city transit system (and garage locations for drivers) should suffice. But there are some generalizations which can be made regarding travel among the various venues, and this is solely based on my own experiences.

1) The post-screening excitement is over (assuming you stayed for the Q&A), you've hopefully met and chatted with the filmmakers and actors, and you've taken care of whatever urgent business you need to take care of before exiting the theater. Now it's time to get to your next screening. In the best case scenario, of course, you don't actually have to "go" anywhere. It is quite possible to stay in one location for an entire day of screenings. Heck, there are folks who do that for the whole festival. I've met many veterans who plan their week not around what films to see but around which venue to call home for the duration. For example, many choose the AMC 24 in Toronto Life Square at the bustling intersection of Yonge and Dundas. This multiplex is situated within an extremely large multi-level mall with plenty to see and do between screenings. At one point all filmgoers were held outside the building and escorted up a multitude of escalators prior to the start of each screening. Because start times are staggered, the scenario which worked the best had one line for ticketholders and one rush line. Staffers would go down the line and call out the name of the next film. Those with tickets would slip out from their positions and head upstairs. The same applied to the rush line. Due to the confusion and logistical difficulties with this method, the festival tried another one -- allowing patrons with tickets to line up in the lobby outside the theatre entrances inside snaking velvet ropes. Rush patrons were still kept outside the building in one line. This seemed to work well because of the staggered start times. Hopefully this is how the venue will operate this year.

Those attending successive screenings there face another dilemma, though. Patrons were not allowed to walk out of a screening and mill about waiting for their next one, unless there was already a line forming in the lobby. It's a bit frustrating to walk out of a theater knowing your next film starts in just a few minutes in the exact same house and have to get in back of a long line but the theatres need to be cleaned out and this was the option they chose. It's even more frustrating for rush line patrons who have to walk out of the building and possibly end up behind a crowd a block away. Previously, some filmgoers found a place to chill in the food court (which has every imaginable gastronomic delight) and carefully observed the lines as they headed up the several flights of escalators. The festival has instituted various methods of combating this but I'll leave it at that. I certainly don't condone cutting in front of people who've been waiting outside on the street for an hour but I feel their pain. There have been several arrangements in the few years the building has been open so it's possible this procedure may change.

But there is no need to leave the building (and/or surrounding sidewalk) from, if one desires, 9:00 in the morning to 11:00 at night on weekends and 2:00 pm to 11:00 pm most weekdays. The festival lineup is so dang good that it's almost guaranteed you're going to have a grand old time regardless of what you select. Other venues lend themselves to this too, particularly the new Bell Lightbox. Scotiabank used to be perfect for an all-day experience but press and industry screenings will now take up most of the morning and afternoon there (more on those below).

2) Besides the proscenium arch theatres and auditoriums we discussed in the previous post, the festival primarily utilizes three multiplex cinemas, each dedicating multiple screens to TIFF for the week: the aforementioned AMC (nine screens), Scotiabank Theatre (dedicating five screens), and TIFF Bell Lightbox (five screens), which opened last year. The Varsity, up north off Bloor, will not be used this year as the Bell Lightbox has allowed TIFF to be concentrated more in the downtown area south of Gerrard. Most festivalgoers will spend the bulk of their time at these venues.

4) The Scotiabank Theatre at Richmond and John Streets has a lovely lobby with a food court and even a small cafe with hot drinks and tables. Due to its spacious interior, filmgoers with tickets never have to exit the building. Most morning screenings will be set aside for press and industry through Thursday, September 13. Public screenings will take place afternoons and evenings (with a few exceptions). For the final weekend of the festival, Friday, September 16 to Sunday, September 18, public screenings will run from 9:00 AM to 11:00 PM.

5) The layout of the festival's primary venues is fairly simple and convenient. The Scotiabank, the new TIFF Bell Lightbox (a five-story complex dedicated to the moving picture), Princess of Wales Theatre (new this year, a few steps from the Lightbox), and Roy Thomson Hall are all located near each other to the southwest. Several blocks east, the Visa Screening Room (which is actually the magnificent, historic Elgin Theatre) and the equally majestic Winter Garden -- double-decker theatres, the last in the world -- are in the same building on Yonge Street. Two blocks north is the AMC multiplex at Yonge and Dundas, with the Ryerson situated a couple of blocks up from there. So the Scotiabank, Bell Lightbox, Princess of Wales, Roy Thomson Hall, Visa Screening Room, Winter Garden, AMC, and Ryerson roughly form an L-shape which is walkable although one can reach the subway within a few blocks of each. So some plan their schedule around those venues. The only theatre still situated further uptown and best reached by subway is the Isabel Bader Theatre, both located just south of Bloor Street to the north. Jackman Hall stands alone to the west but is also a short walk to the subway.

6) All venues are located within a few blocks of a subway stop on the downtown U-shaped route. Tokens cost $3.00 a ride for adults or $2.50 each if bought in packs of 5 or 10. A weekly pass can also be purchased for $36.00 but, unfortunately, the "week" runs from Monday-Sunday so the festival straddles two "pass weeks." Not very convenient for most people, so I recommend purchasing the packs. Stations sell them at booths and and various other locations. Machines dispense single tokens and sets of 4 or 8. There are also Day Passes and other good deals. Seniors, students, and children pay discounted fares (see the TTC site).

7) There are also buses and streetcars (trolleys). Taxicabs are readily available on the major streets but those in the know will have a much better chance of hailing one in front of a hotel. For those with their own vehicles there are convenient garages and metered spots on streets, but I won't go into detail regarding those modes of transportation. I've tried all the above and recommend foot and rail, especially if you're on a budget and in a hurry. If you do have a car, I recommend locating a garage close to the subway lines or the downtown cluster of venues. Park there in the morning and leave it for the day. Some have "early bird" specials if you come in the morning so shop around.

8) There are a lot great maps out there. TIFF's official map and the TTC transit map are pretty straightforward. If you're a subway person like me you'll want to know some tricks. For example (it may be useful to look at one of the maps as you read this), the way I go from Scotiabank to AMC and Ryerson (or vice-versa) is to walk three blocks east on Richmond and one block up to Queen to the Osgoode station, then take the train south until it loops around and comes up to the Dundas station. AMC is literally on top of the Dundas station exit and Ryerson is a couple of blocks up from there. Alternatively, take the Queen Street streetcar from John to Yonge. The route is walkable if you have time but transit is especially welcome in heat or rain. You can use that same subway loop trick to get from Bell Lightbox, Princess of Wales, and Roy Thomson Hall by walking east on King to the St. Andrews station and then heading south around the loop up Yonge. For Bader, just head north from the St. Andrews or Osgoode station and get out at the Museum stop. Bader is a half block to the east. The TIFF Midnight Madness Blog's Sanjay S. Rajput has a fantastic graphic featuring walking distances and times between venues.

9) A note about walking, especially for Americans. Toronto is north of the border but it's not the Arctic Circle. The weather in early September can be downright steamy. My first year I didn't bring a pair of shorts and lived to regret it. It can also be quite wet, as the city sits on the shore of Lake Ontario which provides a source of moisture to the occasional storms above. There's always a brisk business in umbrella sales.

10) Summing up, travel time can take anywhere from ten minutes (walking from Ryerson to AMC, for example) to a half hour (Scotiabank to Bader at rush hour). Average is 15-20 minutes. The trains are rarely crowded but allow for extra travel time at rush hours. Again, this isn't meant to cover every possibility. These are just some of my personal recommendations based on several years of TIFF experience.

The third and final aspect to consider in booking your screenings is what happens when you arrive at your next venue. It's a time-honored tradition, and one which may prove quite valuable as the festival goes on -- waiting in line. I'll cover that in my next post.


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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