TIFF: Your Guide to TIFFing (for Beginners)


TIFF 2019 is just around the corner. As someone who has been both a guest and an employee at the festival, I often get asked many questions by budding participants that wish to partake in the upcoming festivities. Not so fast. As someone who has also had a “first time at TIFF”, let me assure you that you can easily be going about the festival in the wrong way. As you can imagine, there is so much difficulty in getting the tickets that you want, but in reality things may be even more difficult than you had planned (especially if you are planning the wrong way). Hence, I saw fit to make an article where I can pool my various tips into one piece once and for all. With the tickets being sold to the public soon, I hope this insight brings you the help you desire.

The most important thing to remember, and I always (absolutely always) say this when I discuss TIFF with new patrons:


Absolutely. Every. Single. Step. Is. A. Game. Of. Chance.

Will you get your TIFF tickets?
Will you get the spots you want (if there is reserved seating, or if you show up early for general seating)?
Will the cast and crew be present? If so, who?
Will there be a Q&A period afterwards?
Will your question be picked?
Will the film even be good?

You cannot guarantee anything at TIFF, but I try to sell the point that this is precisely a majority of the fun. The festival is a major rush, with nothing being guaranteed or set in stone. I try to emphasize this, because this uncertainty can be seen as a negative. I am promoting how it is positive. It is a thrill ride that turns the festival into an even more exhilarating blur. Just keep in mind that nothing is certain.

For instance, if you do not show up early enough, and you are going to arrive fifteen minutes to showtime, you not only will have bad seats, you may not have seats at all. TIFF offers a rush line option, where any remaining seats go to patient movie goers that line up hours before showtime to occupy any vacant spots. It’s a great second chance for people who missed out on tickets earlier, but it’s an extra reason why you should show up early.

Speaking of tickets, the easiest way to go about this is online. This used to not be as obvious as you may think, even as recent as three years ago. Lining up in person at the box office was a means of purchasing tickets, especially on the first day of tickets being open for the public. Now, online TIFF purchasing is encouraged more than ever. With that in mind, have a stable internet connection, your information on hand, and lots of time. The TIFF website works with the lineup system, where your place in line is held, and you can aim to accumulate all of your tickets into one cart all at once. Time is still of the essence, however, so you can’t assume having tickets in your cart means you’ve snagged your spot. Only once you have actually purchased your tickets are you safe.

TIFF 2019 logo.

TIFF 2019 logo.

If you do not get your coveted tickets, that is okay. You can take part in the rush line. As stated above, this is when you wait in a separate line hours before a showtime to purchase the last remaining spots that have not been taken right before a movie starts. When I say hours, I mean hours. Maybe three. Maybe less. Maybe more. You have to be wise, and gauge what film you are wanting to see. If you want to rush A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, be prepared to be stuck in one spot for hours. For a much smaller scale film (perhaps an independent feature, or a wavelengths experimental project), you don’t necessarily have to worry about waiting that long.

Most venues are general seating (outside of the odd exceptions, like Roy Thompson Hall; you will know if you have seat numbers or not on your tickets), so you will still be lining up for a very long time before showtime to secure good seats. If you have purchased your tickets online and are using a mobile device, a great piece of advice is to be signed into your TIFF/Ticketmaster account while you are spending hours in line (may as well, right?). Turn your device brightness up, and have your QR barcode ready. It will get you into your auditorium much faster, and it will help the showtime start when scheduled (which benefits everyone). Once again, the suggested latest time to show up is before fifteen minutes before showtime (your seat may be given up to rush line goers if you are too late, and the demand is too high).

Most red carpets will have fan zones, where (once again) you will line up for hours to ensure a good spot. Know which red carpets are where. Now, it is recommended that this is your source of celebrity interaction, and I want to enforce this as well. You may be able to spot celebrities anywhere in Toronto, but let them love the city on their own. TIFF has designated a means for Torontonians to see their favourite idols, and I would like to encourage this as well. Please don’t hound celebrities down during their alone time.

Even if you are no seeing a film, or if you are waiting in between films, a portion of King street will be closed off for TIFF’s festival walk. There are many cool activities, including food options, a stage with live acts, and all sorts of new stuff every year. TIFF sponsors usually love to engage with fans during this time, including L’Oréal, Ford and more. This includes digital simulations, contests and more. It’s a great series of events to take part in, especially during your first TIFF. It only runs for the first couple of days, though. The rest of the festival, King street will open up again.

Chances are this is your first TIFF if you made it this far. If so, I hope some stuff goes your way, and you have a great time. Public access to tickets is on September 2nd at 10am, so be prepared. Members, industry personalities, and more may have advance access, so keep this in mind when ticket shopping as well. At the end of the day, part of what makes TIFF special is its open doors to the public. Have fun, experience a great and impressionable film festival, and see Toronto in a new light for a little bit.

TIFF runs from September 5th to September 15th. More information can be found at www.tiff.net.


Andreas Babiolakis has a Masters degree in Film and Photography Preservation and Collections management from Ryerson University, as well as a Bachelors degree in Cinema Studies from York University. His favourite times of year are the Criterion Collection flash sales and the annual Toronto International Film Festival.