Sunday, September 14, 2008

2008 Festival Wrap-up

Well, another festival done for the year. I was up slightly from last year, with 27 films or discussions, totalling 47 hours, 38 minutes.

Things that worked well:

  • Probably don't need to keep mentioning this since for the last few years it's been good, but the festival once again kept the pre-film trailers short and to the point.
  • The volunteers did their usual excellent job keeping the festival running.
  • The AMC ticket line. This was originally going to go on the list of things that didn't work, but the festival did change things up midstream to address the issue of people cutting in line.
  • The festival staff mid-week started specifically telling people not to text message during the screenings. Part of me can't believe they have to even mention this to people, but then again, people still feel the need to talk during movies, so I guess I shouldn't be surprised. Funny story, I had a friend in one screening who had a couple making out in the seats next to him; what surprised me is that anyone would spend that much on tickets and then not watch the film :-).
  • Twittering updates during the fest was new for me this year. For some things I think it made sense (box draw, celeb sightings), not sure yet if it was useful for anything else. Comments either way are welcome.
Things that didn't work well:
  • Once again, the online box office can't handle peak loads on the opening day of ticket sales, and doesn't make it easy for users to recover from errors in the middle of their purchases.
  • The festival brought the 30-film package back after eliminating it last year to much consternation, but unfortunately, they brought it back with the limitation of only one ticket per screening. I know there are quite a few people out there (myself included) that purchase tickets with friends, and this limitation forces us to resort back to buying multiple 10-packs at a higher cost (hopefully they don't put a restriction on that one either).

One thing that I really didn't like this year is not being able to select films at the Visa Screening Room with any of the festival packages (except for the very specific Visa Screening Room package). This was probably one of the things that ticked me off the most, especially when 8 films (Burn After Reading, Blindness, Rachel Getting Married, The Duchess, The Lucky Ones, The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond, The Good, the Bad, the Weird, and Stone of Destiny) could not be seen without purchasing a higher-priced gala ticket for Roy Thomson Hall or the Visa Screening Room (i.e. they never appeared in any of the other festival theatres).

The festival's explanation for this ( is below:

"Visa Screening Room presentations are on par with Galas at Roy Thomson Hall, as this programme of screenings will showcase some of the year’s most significant and noteworthy films, generally World or North American Premieres.
In 2007, TIFF adjusted the ticket price of Visa Screening Room events at the Elgin Theatre to more accurately reflect their value, though in this transition period we still allowed Festival/Daytime/10-Ticket Package holders access to these screenings. As of 2008, Regular Ticket Packages are valid for Regular-priced screenings only.
Premium Tickets (Galas at Roy Thomson Hall and Visa Screening Room presentations at the Elgin Theatre) will go on sale Saturday, August 23 at 10am.
TIFF is also introducing a new screening venue this year, the AMC at Yonge and Dundas, where many of our public screenings will take place. "

I think this explanation is questionable for a number of reasons. One: world/international premieres are not unique to the VSR/RTH films; I saw plenty of such premiers in other theatres. Two: in my past experience, there was nothing about the experience at the Elgin that elevated it above any other screening; big-name stars would still show up to other theatres, generally speaking there were never Q&A's at the VSR, and the theatre is not any better technically than others. Three: despite the introduction of the AMC, there were the aforementioned 8 films that never received a non-VSR/RTH screening.

I've never quibbled with the Roy Thomson Hall gala screenings being more expensive or distinct, but to try to put the Visa Screening Room screenings on the same par is going a bit far. If they are going to continue doing this, the least they can do is *not* make screenings exclusive to those two theatres and let the rest of the festival-going public see them.

The other major problem I had this year was the whole donor privileges issue. New this year, donors of at least $250 got priority in the ticket lottery. Donors of at least $1000 got priority in buying premium tickets. Donors also got separate lineups at Roy Thomson Hall and the Visa Screening Room, and got priority for ticket exchanges on pickup day. While I recognize the need to reward donors for helping to provide the festival with additional funds, I think some of it goes too far, specifically, allowing donors priority in the lottery. I can probably tolerate the rest, but the whole point behind the lottery is to make sure everyone gets a fair shot at the films they want. Sometimes it's worked in my favour, and sometimes it hasn't, but I can't complain because I know everyone is in the same boat. Now, however, people willing to throw in a few hundred dollars more (over and above the hundreds they already spent on packages), get to jump the queue. This is basically going to create a two-tier system where people who can afford to, will get all their films, and everyone else is going to have to take their chances; in Canada, try suggesting a two-tier medicare system and see the outrage that results. I can see this system getting worse as time goes on, and more and more people resorting to buying their way to the front-of-the-line, and I wouldn't blame them at that point. If anything among recent changes the festival has made, this one change probably goes most against the democratic principles the festival has been known for and espoused in the past.

If you feel at all similar, then write to the festival ( or, as Piers Handling claimed in a recent interview to be unaware of any public dissatisfaction with the festival's policies:

Anyway, enough about what didn't work, as I at least enjoyed the films I watched this year. Generally speaking, most of the films were pretty good, and I didn't feel the need to walk out on anything. Of the 27 films or discussions I attended this year, below are my favourites. Note these are only from the things I actually saw; there were a lot of other really good films at the festival this year judging by some of the conversations I overheard in line or had with others:

Favourite films: $5 a Day, Zack and Miri, and Toronto Stories.

Funniest film: tossup between Detroit Metal City and Zack and Miri.

Best dramatic film: tossup between The Wrestler and The Hurt Locker.

Best documentary: I only saw two this year, but I'd probably have to go with It Might Get Loud.

Best Canadian film: Toronto Stories.

Biggest surprise: Jean-Claude Van Damme's performance in JCVD, with Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler not far behind.

"WTF?!" Award: I didn't really see anything this year that was completely incomprehensible, but I'll give this to Takeshi Kitano for Achilles and the Tortoise, if only because I'm still not entirely sure of who or what in the movie is Achilles and who/what is the tortoise.

Screening with the most celebrity wattage: probably a slight edge to It Might Get Loud (Jimmy Page, Jack White, and The Edge, plus Elisabeth Shue in the audience) over The Brothers Bloom (Mark Ruffalo, Adrien Brody, Rachel Weisz, with Ethan Hawke in the audience).

I still have a more reviews and Q&A notes that I hope to post up in the next few days or weeks. Hopefully people found the blog useful this year, and I hope to be back again next year with more ticketing tips, reviews, and Q&A's. Thanks for reading!


I thought your coverage was quite good, and the twitteding was not too much or too little. Keep it up next year!

I have similar sentiments regarding the things that didn't work during the festival (especially premium tickets) but also was very happy with most of the films I saw.

I'm glad you joined the twitter clan! It was great to hear so quickly about updates & posts!

I totally agree about the two-tier system this priority tickets business has created. I plan on writing a very strongly-worded email to complain. THREE TIMES, after lining up for close to three hours for a Gala, the entire priority line got let in in front of everyone. It pisses me off to no end that people who show up minutes before it starts, and don't even know what the movie is about, are treated more favourably at a film festival whose slogan is, "For the love of film".

Your coverage was really helpful, especially before the festival began. This was my first year getting a package and finally figuring out the ticket ordering process. I couldn't have figured it out without this blog. The tweeting in line was great before the festival and tweeting about which celebrities were at a screening was interesting.

I agree on everything about what didn't work and what worked.

I personally liked the Ryerson and the Scotiabank theatres best for waiting in line and screenings.

Despite the few problems, I found waiting with people in line to be really friendly. I thought the overall mood of the festival was a very positive and excited one. I made waiting in lines much easier.

My favourite films were One Week, Synecdoche New York and Disgrace.

Thanks everyone for the feedback on the blog and Twitter. I'll try to continue that again next year by the sounds of it.

I didn't realize they had a donor priority line at the galas. Makes the situation even worse than I thought. I e-mailed the festival yesterday with my feedback, but so far I've just got an automated reply.

Jeff, glad you found the pre-fest info helpful. I know the first year I did the advance order process, it took quite a while to figure it out, so that's why I started the blog in the first place. So good to hear that people are finding it useful!

I have emailed the festival with my concern as well and I got back an email asking me if I would be willing to discuss my concerns in a telephone conversation.

My experiences at the Toronto International Film Festival. Note this blog is not affiliated with the Toronto International Film Festival Group or the festival itself.
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