How to do the Toronto Film Festival - Real Tips For Real People #2 Second of a four-part series

Yesterday, in 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.

Now it's time to go to the movies. After all, that's why you're going (I hope). Let's walk through some tips in chronological order, beginning with the moment you enter the theater and sit down.
1) Once you've located your favorite seat (after awhile you will have one in every venue), the first thing to do is look for the nearest exit. No, not that you'll want to get up and walk out during the film (something I'm proud to say I've only done once -- it was a French film at last year's TIFF that arrived without subtitles) -- this is for any emergencies which may occur, including those involving bodily functions. I won't go into that. Speaking of which...

2) The smartest thing to do is visit the washroom (that's what they call it -- you'll get funny looks if you use any other term) about ten minutes before the start of the film. Hopefully you won't need to use it again, unless you've taken in copious amounts of liquids which is, of course, a no-no for the festivalgoer. Coffee is particularly insidious although, if you time it right, a nice big cup in the morning from Tim Horton's and just enough time before your first film to..ahem...flush it out should suffice. You'll primarily find clean, well-stocked, and well-maintained facilities at all the venues. Experienced festivalgoers also use this time as an opportunity to share feedback on movies you've seen. That's one of the advantages of urinals (sorry ladies). I suppose women share information at the sinks, although I wouldn't know. Come to think of it, that's a lot less awkward. Oh well, moving on...

3) Most films start on time. TIFF is particularly good about this as screenings are usually booked one after another in the same venue, especially at the multiplexes. Staffers use a terrific wireless audio system which really helps things go like clockwork. All festivals have volunteers, but the ones at TIFF are a breed apart. Many are area film students. Most return year after year and work very hard for little (read: no) pay, so it's de rigueur to take some time and acknowledge their presence.

4) "On time" doesn't mean the lights go down. Almost all screenings are preceded by an introduction. This is usually done by a festival programmer, in many cases the person representing the particular section the film is in (e.g., Discovery, Vanguard, Masters, etc.) and often the one who actually chose the film. This increases their level of excitement in introducing it and enhances the overall experience for everyone. Occasionally the filmmaker(s) and/or cast members come up prior to the screening but their remarks are usually brief. Most directors say something along the lines of, "let's just watch the film and let it speak for itself."

5) The festival rep will run through a series of announcements, including thanking the major sponsors. You'll probably have this memorized after a few screenings and be able to recite them along with the staffer. You'll hear all about the Bell Lightbox, which is completing its inaugural year (without Bell there might not be a festival, so hats off to them). At this point, if you haven't already done so, it's time to turn off your cellphones, pagers, beepers, anything that makes noise, buzzes, or has a light, unless it's essential to your survival (i.e., a pacemaker, not an iPhone or Blackberry).

6) Once the lights go down you'll see a series of trailers. The primary one lists the various festival sponsors. It's usually well done with snazzy graphics and cool music. It has to be because you might see it 30 times. Believe it or not, most years I've attended, even after a week it still looks and sounds good. Kudos to the festival for always making sure of this. You'll be tapping along before you know it. You may be reminded to vote for the audience award and to thank the festival volunteers. It's customary to applaud at this point. That's always a lot of fun, especially if you're the one who starts it.

7) By the way, there is a possibility that either during the intro or during the trailers there will be a note about anti-piracy measures being taken. You may then hear a loud "ahhhhrrrrr" emerge from the crowd. It is customary to join the cacophony. An attempt is being made to replace this traditional chant with something fresher. It remains to be seen if this is successful.

8) Once the film begins the standard rules apply as for any movie. Watch it. Don't talk. One thing you'll notice is that, in most cases, festival audiences are extremely respectful of these rules and you'll be spoiled in no time at all. Even at the venues where food and beverages are served throughout the films (not all allow it), patrons know enough to chew and imbibe so as not to distract. The next time you go to your local multiplex you'll wish you were back at a festival screening. There is nothing to compare to a festival audience when it comes to respect for the filmmakers.

9) The film ends. Here is where things become dicey. To leave during the credits or not to leave? Well, keep in mind that there will, in many cases, be a Q&A. Still, many can't resist the urge to get up and head out as soon as the names start to roll. So this is more of a personal thing. I always sit through the credits. Always. If only out of respect for those who made the film I feel it's appropriate. Keep in mind that someone mentioned on screen might actually be in the next seat. Literally. I've had it happen many times at festival screenings. Nowhere else can this occur, so why not take advantage of that and show your appreciation? Of course, if you've scheduled your next film too close in time to and/or far away in distance from the current one then you may have no choice. But I'll get to that.

10) Many screenings have a Q&A after the lights go up. This generally applies to what the festival calls "regular" screenings, not Galas at Roy Thomson Hall (although the cast and filmmakers will address the audience beforehand). In addition, in many cases, the first showings of films at the high profile venues (Visa Screening Room at the Elgin, Winter Garden, Princess of Wales) may not have a Q&A. The audience will usually be informed of this before the film begins. Also, the likelihood of a Q&A decreases with successive showings of films later in the week depending on whether or not the folks connected with the film are still in town. l could write a thousand words on Q&As. In fact, I have. It's one of the main reasons to attend film festivals, I believe. Nowhere else do you have the opportunity to question the filmmakers, cast, and crew about the film you just saw. How anyone can get up and leave is beyond me, but you'll notice about half the audience doing so in most cases. Do not be alarmed. They aren't necessarily making any kind of statement about the film. Then again, one never knows.

11) Usually the same person who introduced the screening will call up whoever is present to represent the film. In most cases these are the director and cast members but I've attended Q&As where 30 people got up in front of the audience including the assistant assistant to the assistant editor. Sometimes these are the people who worked the hardest to get the film to the festival on time so I believe they deserve all the respect that can be afforded. Or the cast and crew might have left town and only a producer stayed. In any case, the Q&As are more than anything, to me, what distinguishes a festival screening from one at your local theater and help make the experience a memorable one.

12) A Q&A doesn't work without the Q. I'm constantly amazed at how quiet it can be when the floor is opened up to questions. Be ready and don't be intimidated. That's what they're there for. In most cases it is considered impolite to ask more than one, but I've attended many Q&As where audience members simply had nothing to ask. In these cases it is acceptable to raise your hand again. The session will go on as long as people have questions to ask, and/or until cut off by a festival staffer in order to clear the house for the next film.

13) Depending on how long the session goes and/or if another screening is coming in, there may be an opportunity to meet the filmmakers and actors. This happens more often than most people think and you don't have to be a VIP. There are two types of venues, though -- traditional large proscenium arch theaters with raised stages (Ryerson, Visa Screening Room at the Elgin, Winter Garden, Roy Thomson Hall, Isabel Bader, Princess of Wales) and ones where the Q&A is held in a pit (i.e., on the floor) or on a smaller stage, like the "real" movie theaters used at the festival (AMC, Scotiabank, Bell Lightbox). You're more likely to be able to walk up to an actor or crew member at the multiplexes, so plan your screenings accordingly.

14) At times the filmmakers and cast members are moved out to the lobby or on the street and greet the public there. They often will take pictures, sign autographs, etc. You don't have to be a member of the press to rub elbows with the stars. But be respectful of what the festival staffers and film's reps desire. Most theaters don't have much room to maneuver in the lobby or outside and what little space there is will usually be taken up by lines waiting to get into the next screenings. If personnel are trying to move everyone quickly to another location it's best not to turn into a stalker. But in many cases it's the actors and filmmakers who decide whether or not they want to stick around regardless of what their "handlers" want them to do. This is a good thing.

In my next entry I'll pick up where we left off and discuss what to do from the time one screening ends until the next one begins. Assuming, of course, you went there to see more than one film.


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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