Attending the Toronto International Film Festival has been a lifelong dream of mine, but I never thought I could make the early September dates jive with a back-to-school teaching schedule.

This year, I made an effort to get on the website and really figure things out…and realized that I could get tickets just for weekend movies, and try to make it work.

“Real people” can definitely get tickets, and I was waiting by my laptop on September 1st at 9 am when the single tickets went on sale. As recommended on TIFF Talk (a great independent blog), I opened the Virtual Waiting Room in a few different browsers, and I was actually let in using a browser that I opened over an hour after my first one. While I didn’t get my first choices for movies (they were all “off sale”) I did get a couple I wanted, one movie for each Sunday of the show.

Now, let me be very honest and clear with you:  I am not a high brow movie connoisseur, interested in artsy, independent and foreign films. I want big movies with big names, as do a lot of other TIFF-goers, which is why it was very hard to get my top choices. (I wanted the August Osage County premiere – Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts –  so badly that I was planning to work around the 6:30 pm Monday showtime if necessary. Any principal would understand a teacher missing a staff meeting for TIFF, right? Alas, that one was also “off sale”.)

In the days before our TIFF adventure, I learned online that extra tickets do go on sale each day at 7 am (even for previously “off sale” films, as package holders might have traded them in) and on the day we were heading to Toronto, I was on the laptop first thing and scored tickets to two Saturday movies as well, which made the trip much more worthwhile.

After meeting my parents to take the girls (thanks Mom and Dad!) we headed straight down to Princess of Wales to pick up all of the tickets I had ordered. Of course, once we arrived, I learned that they aren’t a pickup venue, so I had to cross King Street and wait in a very, very lengthy pick-up line. My husband went back to the theatre to stand in line for the movie – TIFF lines snake around the block at every venue, one for ticket holders and one for those hoping to “rush”, and get in at the last minute if any seats are left empty – and I made it back just as he was approaching the doors. (Note that the orange t-shirted volunteers are very helpful if you’re not sure what line to be in.)

We grabbed seats on the main floor of theatre for the second showing (i.e. not the premiere) of “Prisoners”, with Hugh Jackman, Terrence Howard, Jake Gyllenhaal, Maria Bello, and the scene-stealer, Melissa Leo. We were provided with Jelly Belly samples from E!, but the only other food options for the 12:00 movie were popcorn and water (which is the same fare at most other venues, so try to eat before you go). Canadian director Denis Villeneuve introduced the movie, which was excellent (you should see it when it comes to theatres, which I believe is this week) though a bit long, and its 2:30 end time was slightly stressful, seeing as we had to be up at the Ryerson Theatre for our next movie at 3:00!

We grabbed a cab, and arrived right on time for “You Are Here”, as star Amy Poehler was just walking the red carpet and the ticket holders’ line was beginning to move. Once inside, I headed straight for the front, as this one was an actual premiere (first showing), and therefore you’re pretty much guaranteed to see some of the talent. Director Matthew Weiner (of much-deserved Mad Men fame) was in attendance, as well as Poehler and costar Laura Ramsay. Zach Galifianakis was a no-show, but when I learned the next morning that it was because his wife had gone into labor I forgave him. Not sure what kept Owen Wilson away… maybe he avoided it because it’s not at all a good movie? Sorry…especially to Amy, whom I adore and who did everything she could with what she was given…but we so did not enjoy the film

Matthew, Amy and Laura (and their “people”) sat in the theatre and watched the movie along with the rest of us, and hit the stage afterwards for a Q and A, which I only semi-heard, so desperate I was to try to get some good photos. (Impossible with poor lighting and an average camera. Note to self: before the next TIFF, invest in a really good camera.)

Leaving Ryerson Theatre was just as fun as being there, since we were very close to the red carpet as the arrivals for the next movie – Labor Day – were taking place. We saw Jason Reitman, James Van Der Beek, Josh Brolin (whom, coincidentally, we photographed the first time I was ever close to a red carpet, for the Julia Roberts’ film Eat, Pray, Love) and Kate Winslet, who was very obliging of fans waiting for autographs.

Josh Brolin arriving

Jason Reitman and Josh Brolin

Kate Winslet arriving

Our vehicle was waiting for us where we left it at the Princess of Wales, and after walking back to get it we headed up to Yorkville to check into our hotel. Next was a quick walk up Bloor for dinner at Morton’s The Steakhouse at the Park Hyatt, which was easily the most expensive meal we’ve ever had, but incredibly delicious. (I would recommend it only for a very special occasion, particularly one where you’re not picking up the cheque.)

While I had desperately wanted tickets to Saturday night’s 10 pm premiere of Dallas Buyers Club (Matthew McConnaughey and Jennifer Garner), and in fact seriously considered offering Kijiji scalpers the 500% marked up tickets they were quickly selling, I was actually drifting off at that time, after a very busy first week of school and crazy day of running around the city, and was glad not to be at a late movie.

After waking up refreshed, we checked out of the hotel and headed down Yonge to the Winter Garden Theatre (which was worth getting into just to check out the architecture and ambiance – situated right above the Elgin Theatre, they are the last surviving Edwardian stacked theatres in the world. Just a little piece of trivia for you.) Our final movie of the weekend was Parkland, the story behind the story of JFK’s assassination, from the points of view of those who were working at the hospital where both JFK and Lee Harvey Oswald were treated, as well as FBI agents and Abraham Zapruder, the man who shot the footage of the motorcade and fatal shot.

This film was fantastic, and definitely a must see – for everyone from the teenage girls who just want to swoon over Zac Efron to those who can actually remember that day in November 1963.

As per usual the director (and in this case also the writer) Peter Landesman introduced the movie, but we were also lucky enough to get a very smart and interesting Q and A with him afterwards, even though that’s not the norm for regular screenings.

Though none of the stars were in attendance, Jason Bateman just happened to be in the audience with all of us regular people, and I got a nice photo of the back of his head which I won’t subject you to here.

Now, to answer some of the burning questions that I’m sure you have right now:

What does one wear to TIFF? Photos of my first weekend outfits are below – they were more than appropriate for regular screenings, and even for the You Are Here premiere, I was as dressy as Amy Poehler. I imagine the evening premieres are fancier, especially if you’re attending an event after the movie, but I didn’t see a reason for formalwear for the screenings we attended, and the couple of ballgowns I saw looked quite out of place. (Really.)

How to navigate around the city: In addition to taking advantage of OnStar while driving, I had a map printout that I used to the plan the weekend, writing in all of the locations we would need, and it came in very handy throughout TIFF:

What would I do differently next time? In terms of accommodations, I would try to stay in the entertainment district instead of Yorkville. While it’s always been seen as a ritzy area and a place to stargaze, Yorkville is a fair distance from where most of the screenings are taking place, and many of the celebs now stay closer to the movie action as well. That said, I would try to allow some time for Yorkville window shopping, just in case any of the TIFF stars need to make a quick run in to the Toronto locations of Prada, Dolce and Gabbana, Louis Vuitton, etc. (Holt Renfrew is another popular A-list shopping destination.)

When it comes to the actual movies, I would definitely tackle the ticket purchases differently in the future.
It does seem a bit silly to pay $22 for the regular screenings, when I could wait a couple of months (or even weeks) to see it at a local theatre for half the price. I’m a real movie lover, but when there’s also a commute and possibly accommodations involved, it seems pretty extravagant for regular screenings. What I would do: buy a Premium Flex Pack in advance (for 6 or 12 tickets), which would grant me earlier choice of movies for the premieres and gala screenings. At about $45 a ticket, these are worth it for me for the star-power and bragging rights alone. (Shallow, but honest. You appreciate that, right?)

Even if you don’t have tickets, keep in mind that it can be fun to stand across the street from a red-carpet event, getting butterflies each time a big black SUV pulls up and anticipating who may be inside. (People kept getting so excited over my Equinox!)

Speaking of the red-carpets, I will leave you with my TIFF backdrop shot. No, I’m not wearing orange makeup and I don’t have a bad tan – it’s the lighting, I swear. Most likely because of all of the other flashbulbs going off at the same time, with people shouting “Kate! Kate! Over here!” and “Kate! Who are you wearing?” (Suzy Shier is going to be BIG this year. You’re welcome.)

Epilogue: To end my first TIFF experience, I returned to Toronto (the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema) with my sister-in-law on the last day of the Festival for the repeat screening of the closing night movie, Life of Crime (starring Jennifer Aniston, Tim Robbins and Isla Fisher) – another great film. However, as I have learned – it’s probably not worth it to drive 90 minutes each way and pay double for a regular screening of a movie that I can see locally in a matter of weeks. Unless for some reason I relocate to the big city, I will be a premium screening girl from now on.

2 comments on “My First TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival)!”

  1. I really enjoyed watching "Life of Crime" with you Kate! It was a great movie! Next year…forget the hubby, and I will join you for the premium screening movies.LOL 🙂

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