As depressing as it is to see summer rapidly slipping away, September brings one of the most beloved film festivals to Toronto, the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). TIFF is a source of pride for Torontonians, a city that’s not usually overly excited about anything.
TIFF is one of the world’s most prestigious film festivals. Movies premiering at TIFF often go on to award-glory with several Best Film nods at the Academy Awards like Silver Linings Playbook, 12 Years a Slave, Slumdog Millionaire, American Beauty, and The King’s Speech.
During TIFF’s run from September 4th to September 14th, hundreds of thousands of cinephiles will decend on Toronto and take in over 400 blockbusters, documentaries, avant garde pics, and short films. If you’re interested in getting in on the action and doing it right, here are our top TIFF tips.
1. You can still see a movie even if you don’t already have tickets
Single tickets went on sale Aug 31st at 9am but can be purchased up until the screening, unless a film sells out, which about one-third do. Tickets can be purchased at the TIFF Bell Lightbox, at TIFF.net, or by phone at 1-888-599-8433. Premium tickets (where the movie’s stars will walk the red carpet) go for $46 and regular screening tickets will cost you $24. There are decent discounts for seniors and 25 years old and under.
If your heart is set on a movie that’s off sale, you can try your luck in the Rush Line, which gives away no-show tickets on a first come, first serve basis. A Rush Line begins to form up to three hours before a movie begins and is let in dependent on the seats available about ten minutes before the viewing. Rush Line tickets are slightly cheaper than those that are pre-bought, $20 for regular and $40 for premium, and you must pay by cash. To increase your chances of success, choose films in larger venues like Roy Thompson Hall, Princess of Wales Theatre, and Ryerson Theatre or select films with less hype going into the festival.
It may seem like a long shot, but you’d be surprised how many people don’t show up for their movies, particularly for corporately purchased tickets. Plus if you’re near the front of the Rush Line, you may be able to buy from ticket holders who aren’t able to attend and looking to sell their passes.
2. Head to the TIFF Bell Lightbox to be in the centre of the action
Since opening its doors in 2010, the impressively designed TIFF Bell Lightbox has been established as the official epicentre of the film festival. As TIFF’s cultural base year round, the five story Lightbox houses two premiere restaurants, a five screen cinema, a lovely rooftop terrace, engaging permanent and temporary exhibitions, and a library all dedicated to film.
A worthwhile attraction for any visit, the TIFF Bell Lightbox is especially compelling during the film festival, when the building is overrun with movie-goers, staff, directors, volunteers, actors, celeb stalkers, and film industry VIPs. The excitement elicited here during TIFF is palpable and utterly contagious.
Located at the corner of King & John smack dab in the heart of the Entertainment District, TIFF Lightbox places you right in the centre of many of the city’s most beloved sights and attractions.
3. Get organized before seeing a film
Just because you have a ticket to a movie at the festival, doesn’t mean you’re all set to go. TIFF can be overwhelming for first-timers, while veterans have the luxury of finely tuning their festival strategies year after year.
If you buy online or by phone you’ll need to pick up your tickets at the Festival Box Office at the TIFF Bell Lightbox beginning September 2nd. It’s a madhouse here during the first few days of the festival, with lineups snaking around the block as everyone scrambles to pick up their tickets. Make sure you give yourself ample time if going directly before your film.
There are about a dozen theatres showcasing official TIFF films during the festival, spread across the downtown core from Bloor to Front, between Bathurst and Jarvis. Get familiarized with where your movies are being screened in advance, especially if you have some back to back, so you’re not running around like a chicken with its head cut off. Every year I encounter movie goers that become frantic when they realize how far their next movie is and how little time they have to make it there, almost knocking down unsuspecting tourists as they sprint down the streets of Toronto. Theatre locations and directions can be found here.
On that note, you need to make it to the theatre at least 15 minutes before your film begins or you’ll make the day of someone in the Rush Line. If you want your choice of seat, I recommend getting to the theatre at least an hour in advance. The queue for most films is outside so be prepared for cold or rainy weather.
4. Hang out on pedestrian-only King Street West during the festival
For the first time ever, King Street West will be blocked off to traffic over the opening weekend of TIFF from September 4th to 7th. And in true TIFF fashion, it’s more than just a street closure – organizers have curated a wide array of unique experiences and activities to supplement the traditional film festival’s offerings.
Meander down the seven block stretch between Peter St. and University Ave. and take in art installations, a larger than life chess board, local food trucks, live music, a decked out public piano, and so much more. Restaurants along the King St. West strip will extend their patios into the street, meaning more spots for all to enjoy an al fresco drink and partake in one of the favourite activities of the festival, people-watching.
Grolsch will be hosting a beer garden again this year where festival goers can unwind with a cold one while chowing down on food truck grub and taking in artsy stuff like indie musical acts and a crowd-created mural.
5. Follow TIFFs etiquette code
While many people inevitably get swept up in the celebrity component of the festival, TIFF is first and foremost about the films. It’s one of the most important dates on the cinephile’s calendar and they, rightfully so, take the festival very seriously. Play by the rules that have been established over TIFF’s lifetime or face the consequences, which range from angry glares from other movie patrons to being banned from the film by authoritarian volunteers.
- Don’t bring outside food into the venues unless you’re 100% sure it’s allowed.
- Don’t wear a hat or rock an elaborate hairdo that obscures the view of the people behind you.
- Don’t bust out your cell phone mid way through the programme to live tweet your review, or this might happen.
- Don’t whisper your theories on how the film will end loudly to your friend.
- One person can save one spot in line. That’s it.
- No saving seats in the theatre – this is difficult to enforce as someone might be in the washroom or buying snacks. If you need to save a seat, keep it to a minimum and instruct the person to hurry the hell up.
- Don’t ask a personal or pointless question at a Q&A (like this one to a Director, “You’re from Montreal so are you a Habs or Leafs fan?”). You’re stealing an opportunity directly from someone who’s been carefully crafting their question since they purchased their ticket.
- Be pleasant to the volunteers. It’s not their fault your 20 minutes late to the movie or have to sit in the front row. They’re not being paid to deal with you.
6. If you’re coming to star gaze, hang out in Yorkville or King West
Unequivocally regarded as the most upscale neighbourhood in the city, Yorkville has long been a haven for the film elite during TIFF and throughout the rest of the year. Spanning just a few blocks of downtown, Yorkville boasts several restaurants, luxury hotel chains, and designer shops along its tree lined streets. As in years past, this is likely to be a hot spot for celebrity sightings so find a spot on a cafe patio along Cumberland or Yorkville St. and enjoy some of the best people watching anywhere.
The neighbourhood also borders the city’s premier shopping drag along Bloor St. between Yonge St. and St. George, where all the top designers have their Toronto flagships: Prada, Chanel, Gucci, etc. A large outpost of Canadian department store Holt Renfrew is also a prominent fixture on the street, popular with Toronto and Hollywood elite.
The numerous Starbucks locations in this area (notably Bloor & Bay, Bloor & Avenue, Bay & Cumberland, Avenue & Yorkville) attract more caffeine deprived actors than any other spot in the city. Baristas must be immune to starstruck-ness as the past years have seen George Clooney, Jennifer Garner, and Julianne Moore stopping by to order their favourite Starbucks beverage.
Since the TIFF Bell Lightbox was inaugurated as the permanent festival headquarters on King Street West, the neighbourhood has stolen some of the excitement away from the traditional celeb stomping ground of Yorkville, especially the younger generation of actors. Trendy King West is where you’ll find the young, stylish professionals who work in the financial district once they’re off the clock. Along the strip from Spadina to Strachan, you will find a plethora of buzz worthy restaurants, boutique hotels, quirky designer shops, and hopping bars.
7. To live it up like a movie star, eat at one of the city’s hottest restaurants
Toronto certainly has a well developed restaurant scene, with thousands in the downtown core. But if you want to eat like an A-lister, than head to one of the most popular celebrity spots during TIFF, listed by neighbourhood. No matter where you go, try to make a reservation as far in advance as possible.
Yorkville: For as long as Yorkville has been the TIFF hub, Sassafraz, the neighbourhood’s most notorious eatery, has been the celeb go-to spot. While the restaurant’s buzz has tapered off in recent years, particularly as the younger Hollywood set opt for the trendier west end, it is still one of the premier sports to see and be seen.
Yorkville runner-ups: Sotto Sotto, LaSociété, Café Boulud, Café Nervosa
King West: Brasaii has received its fair share of TIFF action in the past years, and held the wild post premiere party of Spring Breakers at the 2012 festival. A restaurant that masquerades as a lounge after hours, Brassaii transforms itself into the ultimate party place with booths turned into private hangouts for the bottle service clientele and some serious beats to keep the party going until 4am.
King West runner-ups: Luma, Canteen, Buca, Patria
Other Areas: It’s clear by now that the Momofuku sensation has swept Toronto. With an already established empire in New York City, David Chang has brought several Momofuku iterations to the city: Noodle Bar, Nikai, Daishō, Shōtō, and Milk Bar. All of these are located within the Momofuku complex, a three story building in the heart of the downtown core. It’s a celeb hot spot during TIFF festival with Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal enjoying a dinner together before the premiere of Prisoners last year.
Other runner-ups: Drake 150, Hudson Kitchen, Black Hoof
8. If you want to rub shoulders with movie stars, head to a bar after the movie
Sometimes celebrities need a drink to unwind after a hard day’s work just like the rest of us. To get into the festival vibe alongside the film industry, head to any of these exclusive spots, many of which have extended drinking hours until 4am.
Soho House and Spoke Club: These two private member clubs have been very popular with the TIFF going set since they opened a few years ago. Premiere parties such as August: Osage County, Fifth Estate, and The Enemy were only a few of the exclusive events held as these venues. Unfortunately, you’re not getting in unless a member wants to make you their plus one, even with your best efforts to sweet talk the security.
The Drake: This Queen West restaurant/nightclub, has been immensely popular with hip Torontonians since it was purchased and renovated in 2001. The massive rooftop patio – Sky Yard – is ideally suited for mild weathered September evenings or just as a cool down from dancing it up in the downstairs dance cave. The Drake gets busy relatively early and usually has quite a substantial line by 10 PM on weekends but if you go earlier for dinner, you’re in for the night.
Hotel Bars: The bars & lounges in Toronto’s top hotels are likely to be guaranteed bets for TIFF action and they’re usually open to the public. dBar at the Four Seasons, Deq & Toca at the Ritz, and the exclusive Rooftop Lounge at the Thompson Hotel are your best bets.
Runner ups: The Hoxton, C Lounge
Have any more TIFF tips of your own? I want to hear about them in the comments below.