How to do the Toronto Film Festival - Real Tips For Real People #1 First of a four-part series

The 2011 Toronto International Film Festival runs from September 8-18. I've attended 53 film festivals since the start of 2006, but none as prestigious or breathtaking in scope as this one. I saw over 135 movies there from 2006-2010, and many of my Top Picks from all festivals over the past few years (out of over 500 films) came out of TIFF.

In my book, it's the top festival in the Western Hemisphere, second in the world only to Cannes. TIFF is ranked #3 among the Top 50 Film Festivals by the editors of indieWIRE. Many movies have their World or North American premieres there. Almost every major Academy Award-winning film of the past few years debuted in Toronto.
All festivals can be challenging to navigate, especially for novices. TIFF is no exception. And over the years the event has become bigger and bolder. There are more venues, the films are bigger, the "stars" are bigger, and much of the world's press descends on Toronto 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 films 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. Two 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 pictures and video, conduct interviews, and write reviews for the films I attend, as time permits. I'll be doing the same at TIFF 2011 on my Twitter and this blog.

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, and plan your first day. You find the optimum route to the festival location, the best place to park (if you have a car), and the best way to get around from venue to venue.

You attend your first film, 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 film 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 seat saved. Maybe a warm scone. 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. 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.

The Toronto International Film Festival is no exception. As the festival has grown so has interest in it from the media, and 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. This will be my sixth 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.

The complete schedule is available at the Festival Box Office and by visiting Copies will also be distributed in The Grid tomorrow, Thursday, August 25. Tomorrow’s issue of the Toronto Star will contain a 24-page section on the festival and includes the full film schedule.

My favorite (unofficial) sites for film information, trailers, links, helpful search parameters, scheduling tools, and more are and I couldn't put my calendar together without them.

Ticket packages are available online at, by phone at 416-599-TIFF or 1-888-599-8433, and in person at the Festival Box Office at 225 King St. West. Single tickets are available beginning September 3. Methods of payment include cash, debit or Visa.

Coming up in Real Tips For Real People #2...time to go to the movies.


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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