It’s early in the morning and I’m sitting in front of my laptop. The page open on my browser is blank and white, displaying a single line. It tells me that I have just joined a seemingly infinite line of prospective festival goers, all frantically trying to secure a seat in front of the big screen.
Every film buff in Toronto is all too familiar with that morning rush to buy tickets to one of the largest film festivals in the world: the Toronto International Film Festival, or TIFF for short. Every year, for the 10 days following Labour Day, downtown Toronto buzzes with half a million cinephiles, critics, and filmmakers who travel in from all over the world to attend this dazzling event.
The TIFF Bell Lightbox – a centerpiece for the film community – jumps into high gear, becoming one of the many venues in which screenings and director talks are held. Cineplex, Mirvish, Hot Docs, the AGO, Roy Thompson Hall, Ryerson University, and even our very own Isabel Bader Theatre here at U of T join in lending their spaces to the festival. Red carpets are thrown down as Hollywood big shots fly into the city, landing to meet with crowds of press and fans. Traffic grinds to a halt as a stretch of King West is closed for a street festival. Local businesses and sponsors set up booths along the street during the first three days, kicking off what promises to be a great spectacle with food, music, performances, and fun activities.
But with all this attention, what makes TIFF so important?
The answer is two-fold. To many Canadians, it is the crown jewel of our film culture; to the international community, it is the beginning of the Oscar film season.
The festival was established in 1976 as the Toronto Festival of Films. The co-founders – Dusty Cohl, William Marshall, and Henk Van der Kolk – originally intended it to be a local festival, which would collect the top films from other festivals and show them to a Torontonian audience.
Within two decades, it had developed into a prestigious and high-profile event in the film industry. Part of this was due to the creation of the Grolsch People’s Choice Award – many of the films that win this publicly-voted upon award end up performing well in the Oscar Awards, a link which significantly boosts the buzz around TIFF films.
Add this to that the fact that the festival is open to the public, meaning the news about the 300+ screened films travels much faster and over a much wider scope. To filmmakers and critics, TIFF is the first chance to gauge how well a film is received, and how it will perform in the upcoming awards season. To film buffs, the festival provides an opportunity to engage with both lesser known pieces and highly anticipated features as they are premiered.
Following the success of the festival, TIFF has extended their operation to include year-round programing. These premiers, screenings, workshops, and film libraries help sustain Toronto as Canada’s film hub, which provides the perfect environment for other film festivals and events to grow.
Some of the most highly anticipated festivals in the city include: Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival, North America’s largest documentary festival with over 200 films from documentary producers all over the world to Torontonian audiences; Toronto After Dark, a go to event for all lovers of horror, sci-fi, action, and cult films; and Inside Out, the Toronto LGBT Film Festival which showcases a plethora of films made by and about the LGBT community. Many film festivals provide discounted rates to students throughout the year, some even allowing students free access between certain times.
In addition to film festivals, there are also a multitude of free film screenings during the summer months, when the weather is nice. Every week, there are open air screenings at Regent Park, Trinity Bellwoods, Christie Pits, Harbourfront, and countless other public spaces.
So while the Toronto International Film Festival is definitely one of the most highly anticipated film festivals in the world, it is certainly not the only event during the year to satiate Toronto’s love for cinema.