Despite the glamour and glitz associated with the TIFF, there are few things more lovingly dorky than a major film festival. This doesn’t necessarily extend to people who work within the industry (the talent, the buyers, the movers, the shakers) or the people who have to deal with the industry types, but for film lovers a festival is no different than playing video games for hours on end or obsessively collecting action figures. Festivals are labours of love that require precise mathematical calculations; time management skills, accounting, navigational skils, forecasting. I defy anyone to say that attending a festival as big as TIFF is anything short of a spectator sport.
I say this all in loving jest, of course. I know there are casual film buffs who will only see a small handful of films and others who will just avoid the hoopla altogether, but it seems that with every passing year, the number of devoted fans seeing upwards of five or six films a day for ten days seems to be steadily increasing.
As a relative newbie to the city of Toronto – having lived here for less than a decade – I can safely say that I find myself drawn to the completionist attitude that many TIFF die hards in the city seem to subscribe to. I had attended the festival very casually for the first few years I lived here before stepping up my game three years ago. For two years I thought seeing 15 films over the course of the festival was a lot. However, after talking with people in the numerous lines I have stood in over the years I quickly realized that I was a relative novice.
In 2010, I decided to tip my toe into the pool of festival coverage. I didn’t do it as press in any formal sense, but as a paying blogger doing it out of personal interest. The more films I went to (and I went to 38 in 2010), the more I saw the allure of rushing from place to place to see films that I quite often knew nothing about. I was starting to “get it.” More importantly, I was having a heck of a lot of fun. Even if I didn’t like all of the films I had seen, the screenings themselves were always an experience worth remembering.
Still, there are people far more hardcore than I will ever be, even as someone who is technically getting paid to see as many films as possible. A quick glance at Twitter hashtags will turn up film fans loudly buzzing about films across the social media landscape. They all want the inside scoop as they interact lovingly with festival programmers, film critics, and PR people to try to make better ticket buying decisions. In many cases, it starts well before TIFF, with many people keeping a close eye on Sundance and Cannes to try to gauge buzz for the following September.
Fans will buy massive blocks of tickets in exchange for vouchers that are then put into a lottery to determine who gets the first crack at the most coveted screenings at the festival. This lottery is preceded by general freak outs and anxiety over scheduling that kicks in almost as soon as the festival is announced. Once the lottery hits, it is followed across social networks with a fervour usually reserved for the NFL and NBA drafts. People will question and complain about the schedule, but it is out of love for the game.
Then these same fans will camp outside of the festival box office overnight for the coveted “premium” tickets that can’t be ordered in advance (for galas and select events and special presentations). People begin lining up early in the afternoon the day before tickets go on sale, just so they can be the first to purchase single tickets at seven in the morning. The more technologically inclined will sit at home and click on the refresh button on their browsers in a similar fashion, leading to a yearly crash of the festival’s ticketing servers that is sadly unavoidable due to the level of devotion that many people feel.
Then there are the true warriors of cinema, the festival volunteers. These are people who largely get paid only in free movies and rapturous applause before each and every screening, but they do it out of sheer love. Festival veterans will often see the same people volunteering every year and they will develop close relationships with them for a 10 day period. It is like a yearly late-summer camp where everyone gets older, but they never lose their sense of wonder. The volunteers are the counselors and places like the Lightbox and Roy Thompson Hall are the cabins where they join to sing along in praise of cinema.
That’s enough highfalutin praise for an already huge event. I am here to help welcome you to Dork Shelf’s coverage of the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival. Over the next several weeks the Dork Shelf team of reporters and critics will be here to keep you in the loop about the hits and misses of this year’s festival. We have our charts and graphs ready as we gear up to run alongside the other fans who couldn’t be more excited to get this shindig underway. On behalf of everyone here at Dork Shelf, we are thankful and grateful to be fans of the festival and just as thankful and grateful to all of you who are coming to us for your festival reviews and interviews.
Now lets go have some fun.