Thursday, August 06, 2009

How Do I Buy Tickets for TIFF 2009? - Part 1

This is the first in a series of posts on how to buy tickets for the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). This post provides some tips on how to decide what type of tickets to buy, and when you can buy them.

The flowchart below provides a simplified decision-making process you can use (click the image to see a larger version).

  1. The first question to ask yourself is how many movies you want to see. If you want to see just one or two films, then your best bet is to buy individual tickets when they go on sale on September 4, 2009.
  2. If you want to see 3 or more films, then next question to ask if whether you want to pick the films to see. If you don't want to pick, or you want to see *all* the films in a particular programme (specifically Visa Screening Room galas, Midnight Madness cult films, or Wavelengths avant-garde films), then you can select one of the "Our Programmers Choose" packages. These packages can be bought as of July 6, 2009.

    In these packages you either get tickets to all the showings in a particular programme (e.g. Midnight Madness), or the festival programmers pre-select films for you. The latter type of package is good if you want to see a variety of things but aren't really sure what to pick. Note that some of the packages give you screenings in a particular time period (i.e. weekends or evenings, so you won't get tickets for movies in the middle of the afternoon when you're at work).
  3. If you want to select your own films rather than let the festival pick for you, the next question to ask is how many tickets you need. If you want to see 10 films by yourself, then you need 10 tickets. If you want to see 3 films with a friend, then you need 6 tickets. If you need 10, 15, 25, 30, or 50 tickets, then you can purchase a "You Choose" ticket package. These packages can be bought as of July 6, 2009.

    If you need less than 10 tickets, then you should buy individual tickets when they go on sale September 4, 2009.
  4. If you buy one of the "You Choose" packages, starting August 25, 2009, you will be able to fill out a paper form specifying your movie choices. This form has to be returned to the festival before 1:00 PM on August 31, 2009. After that time, the festival does a draw to determine where they start processing these Advance Orders. You can pick up your tickets starting September 3, 2009 at 7:00 AM.

    Note that you are not guaranteed to get all the movies you specify on an advance order form. If you don't get one of your choices because all the tickets have already been allocated, then you will receive a voucher than you can use from September 3 onward to pick a different film.

    The Advance Order process is a bit complicated to explain, so a future post will explain the process in more detail.
  5. Regardless of how you got your tickets, the festival starts on September 10, 2009. You can continue to buy individual tickets during the festival.

Some commonly asked questions are answered below. This post will be updated with other questions as they arise.

Q: If I'm not guaranteed to get the movies I want in the Advance Order Process with the "You Choose" packages, why should I bother getting it?
A: While you aren't guaranteed to get your choices, you still likely have a better shot at getting them than you do once individual tickets go on sale.

Q: If a screening of a film sells out in the Advance Order Process, does that mean there won't be any individual tickets for it starting on September 4?
A: No, the festival usually does *not* allocate all the seats in a screening to advance orders, they usually save out some to go on sale later.

Q: Where and when can I buy tickets?
A: You can buy tickets any time online at, by phone Monday to Friday 10:00 AM to 7:00 PM at 1-877-968-FILM or 416-968-FILM, or in person at 100 Queen Street West (the white tent on the west side of Nathan Phillips Square) Monday to Sunday 10:00 AM to 7:00 PM.

Q: How can I pay for tickets?
A: You can pay by cash, debit, or Visa. Note that Visa is the only credit card accepted by the festival, as Visa is a major sponsor.

Q: What time will the movies be screened?
A: It is important to note that festival screens occur all day, from 9:00 AM in the morning until 2:00 AM at night. If you are buying a package, make special note of this. Some packages specify that all the tickets you get will be in the daytime, or in the evening, or on weekends. If it doesn't specify, then assume the screenings could occur at any time. If you aren't taking time off work, then this could be a problem for you.

Q: How many times is a given movie shown?
A: A given movie is shown multiple times during the festival (usually two or more screenings). Note that some films, especially in programmes like Wavelengths, Short Cuts and Mavericks, may air only once, but most feature-length films will have multiple showings.

Q: Can I see a gala film with my package?
A: It depends. A gala film will usually have its first and possibly other screenings at Roy Thomson Hall or the Visa Screening Room. You can only see the screenings in those venues if you either buy individual tickets after September 4, have a Visa Screening Room package, the Double Date Gala package, or the Roy Thomson Hall Closing Night Film and Cocktail package. However, gala films should all have at least one screening not in Roy Thomson Hall or the Visa Screening Room, and those screenings can be selected with the other packages (like the 10-ticket package or the Festival package). But make sure you pick the right screening when you do your advance order form, otherwise the festival will void that choice.

Q: I really want to see this one film, but I couldn't get it in with one of the packages, and it was sold out when individual tickets went on sale. What do I do?
A: If a screening for a film sells out, first see if there are any tickets available at other times for that film. Picking a screening other than the first one, or one that occurs during the day when most people are at work, may yield better results. If you still can't get tickets, try going to the box office at the particular theatre showing the movie, the morning of the day with the desired screening. You may be able to get same-day tickets. If there aren't any of those, you can join the Rush Line outside the theatre. If any ticket holders fail to show, people in the Rush Line get first crack at those tickets.

Q: I live out of town and want to buy tickets.
A: If you live outside of Toronto, you have a few options. 1) Buy individual tickets when you arrive for the festival; 2) buy a "Our Programmers Choose" package; 3) buy a "You Choose" package and also purchase the Out-of-Town Ticket Selection Service. With this service, the festival will courier you the Advance Order form and schedule when they are released, and provide you with a return FedEx envelope to send your order back. Note that out-of-town bloggers report mixed experiences with this service, but there's not much of an alternative.

Q: If I buy multiple Festival Experience packages, are they all guaranteed to get tickets to the same films?
A: No. There are different ticket allotments for these types of packages, so if you order at different times (e.g. days or weeks apart), you may very well end up with different sets of films. However, if you buy all your packages at the same time, you should end up with the same films.


This is great, Richard. To those who ask if the advanced order process is worthwhile (particularly out-of-towners), I'd add that, once the festival starts, standing in line to buy tickets just isn't much fun, especially when you could be enjoying a longer lunch or a quick nap, instead. Having a stack of tickets already in hand on opening day relieves much of the stress and anxiety that long festivals inevitably cause.

As an out-of-town user for several years, I have consistently found the advance ticket process way too expensive & the lottery system too arcanely "organized". This year I'm giving the on-line individual ticket process a try. If I miss out on some things, so be it.

Richard, I can't thank you enough for your blog... and the link to other TIFF blogs. As a first-time, out-of-town (and outside of Canada) visitor, I was truly in the dark about the process of selecting and purchasing tickets. Now I feel a lot more at ease about my first trip to TIFF. Many thanks for your excellent insights and all the work you've put in to your blog.

Richard. Why is the ticket selection process so complex? I got a 10 pack weeks ago and friends are helping me with the envelopes, the vouchers, picking things up, the choices etc.
I just find the process crazy difficult for no reason that I can see. Any history, or rationale I need to be aware of - please send it my way. Looking forward to seeing a few movies.

Believe it or not, the festival has actually improved and simplified the process over time. The lottery was introduced a number of years back to prevent a mad rush and a first-come-first-served mentality. That's not to say it's crystal clear, otherwise no one would be visiting this blog. :-) I originally started this because you had to use two-color highlighters and draw arrows to your backup picks, and deal with multiple envelopes, etc., so things could be a lot worse.

Thanks Richard. I can't believe it being any more complex - and this is the 21stC....highlighters, multiple envelopes eeks. Some logistics think-tank needs to take this on (if it needs that level of intelligence).
I wonder if other film festivals have a similar process.

I'm glad I have friends holding my virgin TIFF hand.
S (Toronto)

I find it truly sad that TIFF's ticket purchasing is so complex and incompetent...

to the point where a WHOLE BLOG can be devoted to it.

Thanks. TIFF could learn a lot from this.

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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