If you've never been to the Toronto International Film Festival before, it can be a bit bewildering looking at all the options you have for buying tickets. The flowchart below can help you navigate the array of choices, so you can come to a decision about what might be most appropriate for you.
If you're only interested in galas, i.e. big films with big stars and the red carpet experience, you have three main options. If you've never been to the festival before, but you want to pick specific films, you should buy individual tickets when they go on sale in September. If you don't care which galas you see, then buy the TIFF Choice Premium Sampler package. If you're not a festival novice, then buy the My Choice Premium Ticket Pack. Either package can be bought in early July.
If you don't care about galas, you're a festival novice, and you want to pick your own films, then buy individual tickets when they go on sale in September. If you don't particularly care about which films you see, then buy a TIFF Choice package. You don't have to worry about the advance ticketing process, since TIFF will pick films for you, or you get all the films in a particular programme (e.g. Midnight Madness). Just buy the package, and wait for TIFF to tell you what movies you got.
A good choice would be the Contemporary World Cinema package, the Daytime Sampler package, or the Evening & Weekend Sampler package. The Evening & Weekend Sampler package is the best choice for anyone who works during the day.
Now, if you've done the above a few times and want to start delving deeper into the festival, you can still buy individual tickets or the TIFF Choice packages, but if you want to see more films, then look at the My Choice packages. These are good if you want to see a larger number of films, and/or you want more control over what movies you see, and/or you want to select films before individual tickets go on sale to the general public. If just starting out, your best bets would be the 10-Ticket Pack (you get to pick any combination of films, with up to 4 tickets per screening), or the 6-Premium-Ticket Pack (if you want to see bigger galas with bigger stars).
Regardless of how you got your tickets, the festival starts in early September. You can continue to buy individual tickets during the festival.
That's basically the route I took over the years. I'm at the point now where I usually take vacation for the festival and see about 25 films on average (which is not a lot compared to some of the diehards - there's a fairly sizeable contingent of people who see at least 50 films every year).
Some commonly asked questions are answered below.
Q: If I'm not guaranteed to get the movies I want in the "My Choice" packages (because they may be sold out by then), 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 advanced ticketing process, does that mean there won't be any individual tickets for it in September?
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. Additional tickets are also usually released at 7:00 AM the day of the screening, plus there is also the Rush Line (basically a standby line in case any tickets end up being available right before the screening because of no-shows).
Q: Where and when can I buy tickets and ticket packages?
A: You can buy tickets online at http://www.tiff.net/, by phone, or at the Festival Box Office. Consult the TIFF website for more information. Consult my Important Dates page for specific dates things become available.
Q: How can I pay for tickets?
A: You can pay by cash, debit, or major credit cards. The festival is no longer exclusive to Visa, although Visa cardholders can purchase ticket packages earlier.
Q: What time will the movies be screened?
A: It is important to note that festival screenings 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 (Premium) film with my package?
A: Generally no. The only packages that have Premium screenings are the Premium-Ticket Pack, the Closing Night Gala, and the Premium Sampler. All other packages will only allow regular (i.e. non-Premium) screenings. However, gala films should all have at least one non-Premium screening (this is usually the case about 99% of the time), and those screenings can be selected with the other packages. Make sure you pay attention to this when selecting your films. No one has seen the new online system yet, so no one knows if the system will prevent you from making this mistake or not.
Q: I really want to see this one film, but I couldn't get it 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, at 7:00 AM. 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: With the new online advance ticketing process, it should pretty much be the same whether you live in Toronto or not. Since everything is online, there's no need for the old Out-of-Town Ticket Selection Service the festival used to have. One option they did keep for out-of-town folks is delivery of the Programme Book. The book isn't necessary to purchase tickets, but it's easier to read than the website and makes a nice souvenir.
Q: If I buy multiple TIFF Choice 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.