This is the third in a series of posts on how to buy tickets for the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). This post describes some strategies and considerations for selecting which films to see.
There's no one right way to pick which films to see at the festival; it's a very personal choice based on your own interests and personality. This post provides some different ways you can wrangle the huge number of films into something more manageable that appeals to you.
Ways of Selecting Films
Some of the ways you can focus in on particular films include:
- Festival programme
- Festival programmer
- Story, plot, or characters
Director, actor, and writer are fairly self-explanatory. I've met people who will jump at the chance to see the latest Werner Herzog film, for instance. Others want to see Brad Pitt or Patricia Clarkson.
Some people like to focus on a particular genre or span genres. For example, I usually try to see a dramatic film, a documentary, something comedic, something animated, something character-driven, and something with some action at a minimum (but not necessarily in one single film). I don't generally go out of my way to watch something historical, but I do usually seek out something contemporary.
I also like to see films from a number of different countries. At a minimum, I usually see something from Canada, France, Japan, and Scandinavia. I then usually end up with others from the US, South America, Europe, Asia, and Africa.
For festival programme: the films in the festival are divided up amongst a number of different programmes:
- Canada First!: focuses on new and emerging Canadian filmmakers who are making their first appearance at the festival.
- Canadian Open Vault: features iconic, recently restored Canadian film.
- City to City: new this year, this programme contains films and documentaries focusing on a single city, this year being Tel Aviv.
- Contemporary World Cinema: films from around the world.
- Dialogues: Talking with Pictures: has people in the film industry talking about what films have inspired and influenced them. Last year features Agnes Varda, Terence Davies, Joan Dupont, and Deepa Mehta.
- Discovery: features new and emerging filmmakers from around the world.
- Gala Presentations: high profile Canadian and international films.
- Masters: films by established and renowned filmmakers.
- Mavericks: discussions with people in the film industry. In the past, I've attended panels on Indian cinema, Nick Park discussing Wallace and Gromit, and Larry Charles and Bill Maher talking about Religulous while it was still in production.
- Midnight Madness: films that are outside the normal festival boundaries, such as thrillers, horror, and cult films.
- Real to Reel: documentaries.
- Short Cuts Canada: Canadian short films, all under 50 minutes in length.
- Special Presentations: films with major stars and/or directors from around the world.
- Sprockets Family Zone: children's films.
- Vanguard: films with a younger feel that push social and cultural boundaries.
- Visions: films that stretch the boundaries of conventional cinema, using new techniques, territory, and/or technolgies.
- Wavelengths: experimental film and video art.
There are some people who just want to see everything in the Midnight Madness or Wavelengths programmes, and others who pick and choose from all over (I'm in the latter category). Note that if you bought one of the "You Choose" packages, you can select films from any of the programmes, with some exceptions for the Gala Presentations. Even though there are specific packages for Wavelengths, Midnight Madness, and City to City, you aren't required to have one of those to see the films in those programmes; you can still use your "You Choose" package or buy individual tickets.
Gala Presentations have some restrictions. For anything at Roy Thomson Hall, you have to buy individual tickets, or for the closing film, you can also use the Closing Night Gala package. For anything at the Visa Screening Room, you need a Visa Screening Room package or buy individual tickets; but if you want to see what is termed a "regular" and not a "premium" screening, then you can use your "You Choose" package.
A premium screening is the first public screening of a film at the festival at either Roy Thomson Hall or the Visa Screening Room (note that first screenings that occur at other theatres are not considered premium), and have one or more of the following characteristics:
- Is a red carpet event
- Is at least a North American premiere
- Has a Q&A with the director or principal cast
Note that not every film premiers at one of these Gala venues. Most films will actually have their premiere at the festival in a non-Gala theatre, and thus will not be considered to be a premium screening. Also, Q&A's are not restricted to galas. A large number of films will have Q&As; all the reviews in this blog that list Q&A notes were from non-Gala/non-premium screenings.
There are separate programmers for each programme in the festival, and those people have become quite well-known over the years to regular festival goers. Each person has their own personality, and over time you can grow to like a particular person's style and choices, and dislike those of others. If you read the description of a film in one of the official sources such as the programme book or the festival website, you'll find that each is written by a different programmer.
Some people will see a film based on the person who programmed it. Some people such as myself find that some programmers' descriptions of the films are more representative than those by others. As such, the programmer and their description of the story, plot, or characters can be a factor for some in selecting films.
Selecting by timeslot can be an alternative if you have limited time to attend the festival. For instance, if you're unlike crazy people like myself who take vacation to attend the festival, then you may only have time during weekday evenings or weekends. As a result, you may end up trying to choose from whatever films happen to be screening on a Tuesday evening.
I have a friend who also occasionally considers the theatre when selecting films. If he finds himself already seeing a number of films in a single theatre (e.g. the Scotiabank or the AMC), he will often schedule in other films in that same theatre to eliminate having to travel from theatre to theatre, especially if there is limited time between movies.
Considerations When Selecting Films
Some things to remember when selecting films:
- Each film usually screens multiple times during the festival. If you can't get into the first screening, try one of the other ones.
- Films may not start or end on time, so build some contingency into your schedule.
- Times in the festival schedule do not include time for Q&A sessions after the film if the director or actors are present, and depending on the film, this can last from 15 to 30 minutes.
- Don't forget to account for travel time between theatres, as some are far apart from one another.
- If you have children, check the film rating before buying a ticket. The Ontario Film Review Board lists the different film classifications and who can get in ( http://www.ofrb.gov.on.ca/english/page6.htm). Note that many films are unrated, and as such, you must be over 18 to attend, and that includes infants and toddlers.
- You are not guaranteed entry if you arrive within 15 minutes of the film start time, and if you are more than 10 minutes late, you definitely won't be let in.
Sources for Film Selection
Some valuable sources that can help you decide which film to see are listed below:
- Film listing at the official festival website (http://www.tiff.net/filmsandschedules/filmlist/default.aspx)
- Festival programme book (can be purchased for $32.00)
- TOfilmfest.ca (http://tofilmfest.ca/) has films sliced and diced by title, director, actor, language, country, programme, classification, and review rating, with links to IMDB, trailers, and critical reviews, and the ability to search cinema sources for more information. With a new, clean look-and-feel for this year's fest!
Scheduling Your Festival
If you are participating in the Advance Order Process with one of the "You Choose" ticket packages, or just buying individual tickets for multiple films, then choosing films in a given timeslot can make it easier to create your schedule. For example, a friend and I usually attend the festival and see about 60 films between the two of us. We'll see the majority of films together, and some separately depending on our interests. It can get extremely complicated trying to schedule that many films since each screens multiple times on different days.
What we usually do is rank every film in the festival from 1 to 5, with 1 being something we don't want to see at all, 3 is something I could take or leave, and 5 being something I want to see no matter what. We then start with scheduling all the 5's regardless of whether we both want to see the film or not, then 4's that we have in common, then 3's, and then we fill out the rest individually until we've used up all our tickets.
Every time we schedule a particular screening, we try and find one that doesn't conflict with any choices we've already made. Often times a conflict will occur, in which case we have to find a different time for the film, or reschedule something we've already chosen. This can be a very time consuming process; it usually takes my friend and I anywhere up to 8 hours to complete the process. Often times, we will run into a situation where it is impossible to see a film because there are no screenings available that don't conflict with other films we want to see more.
If you are only picking movies for yourself or are seeing 10 or less, this likely won't be a major problem for you. However, you should always consider backups in case your primary choice is sold out. This is true both if you are buying individual tickets or doing the Advance Order Process. It is extremely common for people to go to the box office, try to buy a ticket for a specific film, find out it's sold out, then spend a long time trying to find an alternative movie because they haven't taken the time to figure out what else they might want to see. This has the side effect of tying up the box office and creating long lines, and frustrating every one else. Plus, the longer you take trying to find an alternative choice, the more likely it is that your eventual alternate may be sold out to other people at the box office or buying online. Also note that there is now a $2.50 fee to exchange a ticket, so choose wisely.