“I beg your pardon?” is my usual shocked reply until I realize they’re referring to the Toronto International Film Festival, or as acronym aficionados refer to it, TIFF.
Gaining my composure I continue, “Get ready to enjoy ten days of standing in lines, sitting in the dark and only eating sporadically.” It sounds like some new age sense deprivation therapy or a Toronto City Council session but it’s actually what you can expect from attending the biggest public film festival in the world.
For ten days each September movie stars decorate red carpets, thousands of miles of film unspool and movie mavens push the limits of their endurance to take it all in. But how, exactly, does one “do” TIFF?
Let’s start with the galas, the star-studded screenings of the festival’s biggest movies. Advance tickets may come with sticker shock, but they also come with the chance of eyeballing George Clooney or Angelina Jolie up-close-and-personal.
These tickets are in high demand, so how do you get them? It helps if you strongly resemble someone famous. A few years ago a Bono look-a-like talked his way into gala screenings and parties and it wasn’t until much later everyone realized he was an imposter. If you are not a rock star or genetically blessed enough to look like Jon Hamm or Emily Blunt, however, you must plan in advance and be prepared to stand in lines. The gala presentations usually have a rush line the night of.
With the galas come celebrities so your chances of bumping into a bold-faced name or two increases exponentially during festival days. What’s the etiquette when you find yourself basking in the reflected glow of Brad Pitt or Dame Judi Dench?
Be yourself and don’t try too hard to impress and you’ll be fine. If that doesn’t work talk in film critic speak to get noticed. If you must sully their golden ears with your speech, fall into meaningless movie-speak; label their film a “tone poem” or tell them it was “quirky but inspiring.” Drop Pedro Almodóvar’s name. Say things like “the films this year show an international scope and diversity of voices,” and pepper your speech with any of the following words in any way that seems appropriate at the time: avant-garde, unconventional, innovational or causative. Don’t worry if what you’re saying doesn’t make sense, the celebs will be too tired or too self-absorbed to notice.
Do NOT corner Brad and spout your detailed opinion about his new movie. He doesn’t care what you think. He’d rather be at home with Angie and the kids. Also don’t ask about Angie or fish for an invite to George’s villa.
If you see Jackie Chan at TIFF’s Asian Film Summit refrain from asking how many times he’s broken his nose. Google it instead.
The above rules also apply to the festival parties. Keep the conversation going without offending anyone or actually saying anything worth repeating. Perfect for the party circuit.
The festival is more about celluloid than celebrities, however. You may get a great water cooler story from a casual celeb encounter, but the fest’s main attraction is, and has always been, the movies.
TIFF offers up the chance to see the best of domestic and world cinema, get a jump on Oscar season and watch movies you’d never be able to see otherwise.
What are three things one must bring to a screening? A good attitude, a willingness to be swept away by the movie and, on a less ephemeral note, a snack. These things never start on time and there is nothing worse than watching a movie on an empty stomach.
Three things NOT to bring: a cell phone (unless you promise to turn it off before the movie starts), candy wrapped in crinkly paper and a bad attitude.
It can be hard to maintain a rosy outlook, but as I always say, if TIFF isn’t an endurance test, you aren’t doing it right. You should go in filled with the hope of seeing great movies and possibly sharing a moment with your favorite movie star, and emerge on the other end of the ten days exhausted, but satisfied.