Smart TIFF Tips: Your Survival Guide To The Festival

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It’s that time of the year again: September and the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) is about to overtake the city of Toronto. The plane tickets have been booked, celebrity lists have been compiled, the film titles have been released and it’s time to enjoy the glitz and glamour. Once again Tinseltown is about to embark on the sunny and usually still warm city of Toronto. For some of us, the film buffs, it’s one of the best times of the year. Whether you’re a frequent TIFF goer or a first timer I’ve got some smart TIFF tips for you.

And what makes me an expert you may ask? Well, I’m not an expert but I have attended the Film Festival for about 16 years. In addition, I have volunteered at the Festival for 14 years and worked at two Festivals as a seasonal staff member. So needless to say, I know a thing or two about this event. And I’m here to share some of my knowledge with you to make your experience a flawless and enjoyable one.

7 Smart TIFF Tips

Smart TIFF Tips: Your Survival Guide To The Festival

Smart TIFF Tips # 1 – Get Plenty Of Rest

In case you didn’t know TIFF requires quite the time commitment. There are tickets to secure and long line-ups to endure so you better stock-up on your sleep now. One of my best TIFF tips is to get your sleep when you can. The Box Office opens at 7 am so you might need to show up very early in order to grab some last minute tickets. There are also early film screenings available that might be your best option to see popular films. Alternatively, there are late night screenings such as Midnight Madness you might want to experience. Those screenings tend to end in the wee hours of the night and most often have Q&A afterwards so plan for a long night.

All of this means, you might not get as much sleep as you usually do. To keep a healthy routine even during Film Festival time, make sure you don’t schedule films too late into the night if you have a screening early the next morning. Otherwise, you might turn into a zombie or worst yet, fall asleep in the movie theater and miss that great film.

Smart TIFF Tips #2 –Β Stock Up On Snacks

If you’re a good planner like some people I know; calling out my friend and fellow film buff Ada of T.O. Culturephile, you’ll make sure to stock up on plenty of snacks before the Festival. By the way, check out my friend’s blog to read some of her great film reviews. These snacks will come in handy when you have an early morning screening and you didn’t have time for breakfast. On the other hand, you might be starving when you’ve been seeing films all day and still have a Midnight Madness to attend. It’s better to be prepared well than to have to scramble later. An occasional fast take-out never hurt anybody but you don’t want to live on those meals alone. If you can make a batch of food to stock up your fridge you’ll be so glad you did.

Here are some ideas for quick & easy snacks

  • Granola bars
  • Carrot and celery sticks
  • Hummus, Spinach, Artichoke or any other dips
  • Bananas and Apples
  • Sandwiches
  • Banana Bread
  • Brownies

Smart TIFF Tips: Your Survival Guide To The Festival

My friend Ada’s snacks stack

Smart TIFF Tips #3 – Have A Contingency Plan!

Even the best-laid plans have a way of not turning out sometimes. You might think you’re well prepared but think again. Among the many TIFF tips I’m sharing with you this one is an important one. During TIFF you must always have a contingency plan. What I mean by that is: having multiple film options should the one you want sell out. As a seasonal TIFF goer, I always have 4-5 film options ready. Most of the time you’ll end up with your first choice but that’s not always the case. Make sure you pick at least a few films you would enjoy seeing to not miss out. Don’t get fixated on just one film especially if it’s a very popular film as those are hard to come by. They also tend to sell out quickly and don’t always have tickets available later.

Make sure you are prepared for that so you don’t feel too bummed out if the film you want to see is not available. Usually during the entire TIFF you’ll get 1-3 chances of seeing a film on different days or times. So go through your schedule carefully to see if you can fit your favorite film another time.

Smart TIFF Tips #4 – Show Up Early To Avoid Disappointment

Seasoned TIFF goers know to show up early. Why? The seats in the theaters are not numbered so they’re on a first-come first-served basis. The earlier you show up the better seat you can grab in the house. If you’re hoping for some celebrity sightings you’ll definitely want to make sure to find a good seat. There are a lot of opportunities during TIFF to see famous people such as: red carpets, film introductions and Q&As after the film screenings. Sometimes you’ll even get a chance to come and say hello to your favorite filmmaker or performer. Best Pro TIFF Tip: Many filmmakers and performers still show up to the smaller and non-red carpet screenings at venues such as Scotiabank Theater or TIFF Lightbox.

Unexpected Celebrity Sightings

I’ve had plenty of amazing opportunities to meet some of my favorite filmmakers and artists. Last year I had the pleasure to meet one of the most famous and Polish cinema icons Boguslaw Linda. Put it this way, he’s like a Polish Robert De Niro or Al Pacino. His film screened at the Scotiabank Theater and at the end of the film he was gracious enough to shake hands, speak and take photos with fans. My mom and I were lucky enough to be among these fans. And furthermore, afterwards when we walked out of the cinema into the street we saw him again and we were able to have a one-on-one conversation right there completely uninterrupted. I can’t tell you what an amazing opportunity that was. It was simply an unforgettable experience. He was really sweet and gracious with us and even gave us compliments. What a gent!

Smart TIFF Tips: Your Survival Guide To The Festival

Smart TIFF Tips: Your Survival Guide To The Festival

Smart TIFF Tips: Your Survival Guide To The Festival

Meeting Boguslaw Linda after the Premiere of ‘Afterimage’

Smart TIFF Tips #5 – Sold Out Doesn’t Mean Sold Out

Here’s a lowdown on Ticket TIFF Tips! There are a number of ways of getting tickets for TIFF. The best way is to purchase Festival packages early so you get the best ticket buying window and best selection of films. These go on sale sometime in August. There are a variety of options when it comes to packages so choose the one that works best for you. If you miss out on ticket packages you still have an opportunity to purchase tickets when they go on sale to the public. This happens the first week of September.

TIFF Tips – Public Sale

When it comes to the public sale, you must know that there are two ways you can purchase tickets; in person or online. If you choose the first option be prepared to line-up outside of the Festival Box office very early. There are some people who even line-up overnight or the day before. Believe me!!! It happens every year. If you don’t want to subject yourself to the long line-up you can try your luck online. The online option will also require some time commitment. Don’t be surprised if the system crashes due to the overwhelming volume of people buying tickets at the same time. So patience in this situation is a must. You must understand that popular films such as big galas may sell out in seconds or not even be available on the public sale.

TIFF Tips – Off Sale

If a ticket says it’s Off Sale it doesn’t mean it’s Sold Out! It simply means that it’s not on sale right now. Tickets may become available closer to the screening date. It’s a common practice for the venue to hold seats for various reasons: filmmakers, sponsors, donors and such. These tickets may be released later or on the day of the particular screening. So don’t count this film out yet. Keep checking online until you see the film is sold out. Make sure you check back early on the day of the screening as most often tickets become available on that same day.

TIFF Tips – Gala Stand-By Tickets

New this year there are Gala Stand-by Tickets. These tickets are only available for screenings at Roy Thompson Hall. If tickets are no longer available to purchase in advance, they might get released later on a stand-by basis. The difference between these tickets and Rush is that Rush only becomes available 10 minutes before the screening. If you arrive early enough, make sure you line-up in the Stand-by ticket line to get first dibs at tickets before the Rush line.

TIFF Tips – Rush

What if a film is sold out? You can still have a chance to see this film if you show up early to the venue on the day of the screening. This is known as Rushing a screening! My suggestion is to show up 3 hours early. Yes you heard me; 3 hours!!! The earlier you show up, the better the chances of securing a ticket should tickets get released at the last minute. There might only be a few seats available so you want to be the closest in line. But you need to prepare yourself for the worst as some seats never become available especially if the film is very popular and the venue is small.

Smart TIFF Tips: Your Survival Guide To The Festival

Smart TIFF Tips #6 – Always Bring Your Camera

Honestly, this one of the most important TIFF tips! You never know whom you might see in town during the Film Festival. And you never know where you might spot that celebrity. I once ran into Dustin Hoffman on the stairway of Roy Thompson Hall. Imagine my surprise. Unfortunately, I didn’t have my camera ready nor did I feel comfortable drawing attention to Mr. Hoffman in such a place. He was very nice but politely declined signing an autograph. As it turns out he had injured his hand so he couldn’t write. Just seeing him was a huge honor as I’ve been a fan of his since I was a little girl. If you didn’t cry at Kramer vs. Kramer you may have no heart. Over the years I’ve spotted so many celebrities I’ve literally lost count; Adrien Brody, Charlize Theron, Bono & Edge, Kate Beckinsale, Ewan McGregor, Stuart Townsend and so many more.

Check out these pics of my celebrity sightings!

Smart TIFF Tips: Your Survival Guide To The Festival

My meeting with director Joel Schumacher in 2000

Smart TIFF Tips: Your Survival Guide To The Festival

Meeting Robert Downey Jr. at the Premiere of ‘The Singing Detective’ in 2003

Smart TIFF Tips: Your Survival Guide To The Festival

Saying hello to Nicole Kidman at the Premiere of ‘Dogville’ in 2003

Smart TIFF Tips: Your Survival Guide To The Festival

Robert Downey Jr. and Val Kilmer at the Premiere of ‘Kiss Kiss Bang Bang’ in 2005

Smart TIFF Tips: Your Survival Guide To The Festival

Charlize Theron at the Premiere of ‘Battle In Seattle’ in 2007

Smart TIFF Tips: Your Survival Guide To The Festival

Stuart Townsend at the Premiere of ‘Battle In Seattle’ in 2007

Smart TIFF Tips: Your Survival Guide To The Festival

Nicholas Cage at the Premiere of ‘Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans’ in 2009

Smart TIFF Tips: Your Survival Guide To The Festival

Bono and The Edge at the Premiere of ‘From The Sky Down’ in 2011

Smart TIFF Tips: Your Survival Guide To The Festival

Meeting Scott Speedman after the Premiere of ‘The Moth Diaries’ in 2011

Smart TIFF Tips: Your Survival Guide To The Festival

Scarlett Johansson at the Premiere of ‘Under The Skin’ in 2013

Smart TIFF Tips: Your Survival Guide To The Festival

Talking to Iggy Pop and Jim Jarmusch at the Premiere of ‘Gimme Danger’ in 2016

Smart TIFF Tips #7 – Smile, You’re At A Film Festival!

This might just be the unofficial TIFF tagline. After all, if you’re not having fun you’re doing it wrong. So keep in mind that taking in the Film Festival requires a lot of planning, plenty of rest and a lot of patience. If you come to this event fully prepared you will have a much better time. TIFF is a fun event so try to not take it too seriously. Go out on the town, wear your best duds and comfortable shoes, grab a friend or a loved one and enjoy yourself. This is not meant to be a stressful event if you understand what’s involved.

Happy Tiffying!

Smart TIFF Tips: Your Survival Guide To The Festival

I would have loved to officially cover this event on behalf of my blog but media passes to TIFF are hard to acquire. Hopefully one day I’ll get to cover this awesome event. Until then, I’m still happy to cover smaller events in the city and while traveling. If you’d like me to attend one of your events and review it on the blog feel free to get in touch via the Contact Form.

So I hope I’ve given you some great smart TIFF tips that you can follow to have an amazing time at this year’s Festival and for years to come. Let me know if you have attended this event before and what’s been your experience? Don’t forget to sign up for our newsletter to never miss a post and get a chance to win future prizes only available to our subscribers!


  1. Lisa K says:

    Wow! You have had some awesome experiences over the years and some close ups with some big celebrities. I used to work in Yorkville and saw from a distance Danny DeVito but that’s about it, LoL. I have never officially gone to any events.

    1. thesavvydreamer says:

      Oh nice Lisa. Yes, I’ve been so fortunate to see many celebrities and attended some great events over the years. It’s been a lot of fun.

  2. Muhammad Ameen Sheikh says:

    Wow, this is amazing and yes showing up early and having a camera is important

    1. thesavvydreamer says:

      Absolutely Muhammad. That’s the key. Thanks for checking out the post!

  3. thatkenyanwanderer says:

    Woah! So happy you got to meet all these celebrities! The whole experience must have been so exciting!

    1. thesavvydreamer says:

      It was exciting indeed. Just one of the perks of living in Toronto and taking in the Film Festival πŸ˜‰

  4. Tahnee’s Blog says:

    What a great post. Looks like you had another fab year with some awesome pics thanks for sharing x

    1. thesavvydreamer says:

      Yes Tahnee, every year it’s something new and exciting that TIFF has up its sleeve. Glad you enjoyed the article.

  5. Sarah says:

    The husband is a film buff and, armed with your tips, we might actually try and attend a film festival now. It’s pretty cool you got to see and meet all these stars too.

    1. thesavvydreamer says:

      That’s fantastic Sarah. This is why I wrote this post to help those who haven’t been to a film festival yet. If you’re well prepared you’ll definitely have an awesome time.

  6. Matt says:

    Looks like quite a celebration of film. I love movies so I know for sure I’d love this event too. Thanks for sharing your tips, they will come in handy for other festivals too.

    1. thesavvydreamer says:

      Good to know you’re a fellow movie lover. Glad to hear these tips might come in handy for other festivals πŸ™‚

  7. Kelly Iverson says:

    I can’t believe you met Robert Downey Jr.!! Literally I would have died on the spot.

    1. thesavvydreamer says:

      Kelly, I’m a huge RDJ fan from way back so I was super excited nervous. I literally talked to him for a very short time but I was amazed I was able to keep my cool lol. It was over in a flash but he did sign a beautiful picture for me so I’ll have that as a souvenir forever. That and the vague memory of it πŸ˜‰

  8. Kelley says:

    This is so cool! I can’t believe you’ve gone so many times. I’m so jealous.

    1. thesavvydreamer says:

      Oh thanks Kelly. I was quite obsessed for a few years. But it’s fun.

  9. Niki says:

    Girl!! How many times have you been there again?? I think you must take me with you once! Haha

    1. thesavvydreamer says:

      Ha ha ha. Believe me there are even more hard core Tiffers out there. But yes, I was slightly obsessed for a while.

  10. sj says:

    wow, You have such awesome pictures here, and i really like all the points you have included here. Sleep is the best part as this is really needed to get that enjoyment of being present .

    1. thesavvydreamer says:

      So happy you found this article interesting. Thanks for checking it out. Have a great day πŸ™‚

  11. blogthirtyminusone says:

    Hi girl, I hope you don’t mind me leaving this here, but after following your blog for a while, I wanted to take the opportunity to recognize you with The Blogger Recognition Award on my blog.

    Xx, Nailil

    1. thesavvydreamer says:

      Thank you so much for the recognition Nailil. Love ?

  12. elviscosmos910 says:

    Truly , the early bird catches the worm. This is one festival i’ll endevour not to miss. Thanks for the prep info, it came in handy.

    1. thesavvydreamer says:

      That’s great to hear Elvis. And thank you for visiting the blog.

  13. Katchutravels (@Katchutravels) says:

    This is interesting. I have never been to a film festival, but your posts capture the energy levels at a fest like this, where rest and food need to be taken whenever possible since its easy to miss on it and then it starts affecting your whole experience. Maybe I should register for some film festival like IFFI nearby.

    1. thesavvydreamer says:

      Definitely, you should try to go if you can. It’s a very interesting experience. And sometimes you get to see films that never see the light of day and that’s always special.

  14. Globejamun says:

    I will love to attend TIFF … sounds fun

    1. thesavvydreamer says:

      It definitely is a lot of fun. I hope you get to attend one day.

  15. echoesofhervoice says:

    Great post!

    1. thesavvydreamer says:

      Thanks so much for visiting.

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