Toronto International Film Festival Pro-Tips Please!
May 11, 2011 12:05 PM   Subscribe

Please tell me your pro-tips for attending the Toronto International Film Festival!

I'll be attending TIFF for the first time this year and would love help getting the most of out of it. I'm most interested in:
  • seeing some great films (but not necessarily the big name ones)
  • staying in a fun, safe and convenient area
  • checking out any Toronto hidden gems (great bars, cool galleries, hip cafes, etc.)
  • not dealing with a ton of traffic
  • having a couple great meals.
  • love live music and would enjoy seeing a great local band
  • not a partier--not really interested in late, drunken, loud nights.
  • Should I become a TIFF member? What level?
  • Where should I stay? I can afford to spend a decent amount (US$200/night or so). For reference my favorite hotel chain is aloft.
  • I'll have a car but I would love to minimize any driving/parking hassles.
  • How many days should I attend the festival?
  • If I shouldn't do all ten days, should I attend near the start, end or somewhere in the middle?
  • Tips to minimize being considered an ugly american by Torontonians?
posted by sexymofo to Travel & Transportation around Toronto, ON (10 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
You'll want to come at the beginning so you can stand in line the first day to exchange your tickets/cash-in your tickets for when you didn't get the movies you wanted. Two years ago I waited in line for 5+ hours for this. It may be better now that TIFF has it's own building and so presumably is better equipped for all manner of things. Seriously, though, the best way to make your TIFFing experience an easy and pleasant one is probably not possible for you: Have someone else buy the tickets. It's some complicated multi-stage lottery thing to decide who gets what tickets. You have to do everything right in time for the right deadlines and if you get it wrong you have to stand in line forever to fix it, and if you do it right, you'll probably still need to stand in line forever for something.

As for places to stay, you should probably stay near the Bell Lightbox if you're coming primariliy for TIFF. That will also be close to plenty of theatres. There are hotels near there, including at least one a few doors down. They may also have special deals for TIFF which I think would be on the TIFF web site.

I don't know if this is kosher do suggest on askme, but I could rent you a parkking spot a few blocks from TIFF. Memail me if interested.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 12:33 PM on May 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: You don't need to become a TIFF member if you don't care about getting into the big name films and attending the galas. It will give you a leg up on the lottery system, but if you're reasonably flexible about what you see it may not be worth the extra money. (And for whatever it's worth, I went for the last ten years running, seeing up to 45 movies some years, and there were exactly 2 that were not worth my time. If it's in the festival, it's probably pretty damn good.) I do recommend paying for the out-of-town package so you can do your ticket order in advance. If you wait until walk-in ticket sales start, a lot of movies are already going to be sold out.

Take a look at the festival map and try to stay near one of the theaters, if you can - it helps a lot, at least if you're going to see a ton of movies, to have a nearby home base to pop back to.

We gradually expanded the number of days we stayed until, for the last several years, we were doing all 10 days. If you can swing it, I highly recommend it. Otherwise, the main thing I can think of is that weekend showings are packed and hard to get into because the locals go too, weekday and weekday evening showings are easier because the locals have their actual lives and aren't filling up the theaters as much. The celebrity/paparazzi stuff is a lot heavier toward the beginning, and you have a higher chance of directors or actors showing up to the screenings for Q&As, earlier in the week. I consider the first a minus and the second a plus, so it's pretty much a wash.

If you can swing it, go to at least one Midnight Madness screening. It's a very different vibe from the rest of the festival but *so much fun*.

If you do social media, keep an eye on the #TIFF11 hashtag on Twitter as the time grows nearer. Last year was the first year I was on Twitter and also at the TIFF. I met some cool people, and hearing others' firsthand movie experiences was really interesting to me.

This is the first year since 1999 that we're not going, and I'm sad about it. TIFF is *so* much fun. You'll probably have a great time - enjoy!
posted by Stacey at 12:35 PM on May 11, 2011

Oh! I forgot - wherever you stay, get your hotel reserved ASAP. A lot of the more affordable ones near the venues are already going to be sold out by now. The sooner you get something reserved, the better.
posted by Stacey at 12:36 PM on May 11, 2011

I don't have anything to say about TIFF but two of my favorite places in Toronto are Fresh (vegetarian restaurant -- so yummy) and Greg's Ice Cream (mmm... delicious). Also, it's worth wandering around Kensington Market if you like hip, crunchy neighborhoods (and fresh veggies/bread/cheese).
posted by cider at 12:56 PM on May 11, 2011

A couple of more generic Toronto suggestions:
  • you won't need to drive anywhere, especially if you stay downtown as suggested. All the theatres are either right by the Lightbox or up in Yorkville, a short subway ride/cab ride away.
  • for music, check out the lineups at the Horseshoe and Dakota taverns. For jazz, try the Rex. Of the three of them, the Dakota is my favourite spot in terms of just having a couple of drinks.
  • it's a town full of great restaurants. Choose a couple (maybe check out Toronto Life or Chowhound for suggestions in your price/cuisine range) and make reservations sooner rather than later - film festival week is as hard on/as good for the restos as it is on the hotels.
I wouldn't worry too much about the "ugly American" stereotypes. We're used to tourists. The theatre areas are nutty during the festival, and a lot of Torontonians avoid them for that week. You'll likely be rubbing elbows with a lot of out-of-towners as well as those hardcore filmloving Torontonians that take a week off to watch movies. In other words, your appreciation of film will likely go a long way towards making it easy to get along with the people you meet.

That being said, keep in mind:
  • we do have our own currency. Things are a lot smoother if you just get some Canadian money out of a bank machine/ATM/whatever you call them.
  • Visa and Mastercard are near-universally accepted, Amex slightly less so, Diner's Club much less so.
  • "Interac" is the Canadian version of paying with your bank/debit card and is gaining a lot of ground. It should work with any major bank card that support international standards.
  • Toronto is a very safe city, especially in the areas that the festival theatres are. It's also a very walkable city.

posted by flipper at 1:07 PM on May 11, 2011

considered an ugly american
Pardon my digression, but in the book, this term is one of affection. It's been degraded to mean boorish tourist, but that's not what was originally meant.

Now, on to the Festival. Typically, it's not as good for documentaries as for feature films, but the doc. directors are usually very vocal and appreciative of their audiences. I'd attend near the beginning, because that's when the celebs show up, and while it can be a circus, that's part of the fun.

Joining might be worth it, if only for the Tim Burton ticket.
posted by Ideefixe at 2:01 PM on May 11, 2011

Toronto hidden gems (great bars, cool galleries, hip cafes, etc.)

Some cafes:

Dark Horse
The Common
Communal Mule
Sam James

Some bars:

The Henhouse
Press Club
Black Dice
Three Speed
The Beaver
posted by Beardman at 3:42 PM on May 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

seeing some great films (but not necessarily the big name ones)

Spin the random dial with a view to foreign films. You might see a work of genius that doesn't get distribution.
posted by ovvl at 6:34 PM on May 11, 2011

checking out any Toronto hidden gems (great bars, cool galleries, hip cafes, etc.)


MOCCA is one of my favourite galleries and is on West Queen West where you'll find a lot of other smaller galleries as well (Katharine Mulherin, Clint Roenisch , Paul Petro, Thrush Holmes Empire, to name a few).

Food and drink:

White Squirrel Coffee Shop has great ice cream (roasted marshmallow!)

Cherry Bomb on Roncesvalles has great coffee and is a short walk from High Park.

If you eat of the meat, you have to go to Black Hoof. Get the charcuterie platter. And the pig face tacos, if they're on the menu. If you like cheap, delicious Ethiopian food, check out Nazareth.

The Slow Room
is my local coffee shop and they make the best cappuccinos around, in my opinion. They also have fantastic sandwiches.

Brunch at Saving Grace is never a mistake.

Get the tacos at Agave y Aguacate in Kensington Market (you can thank me later). El Trompo is also good (and it's licensed), and the pupusas at Perola's are a favourite of mine.
posted by Felicity Rilke at 12:39 AM on May 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

Based on your preferred hotel, you might like to stay at the Cosmopolitan. There's parking there, and it's close to where you want to be and the TTC.

Pick up a copy of NOW, the free weekly magazine when you get to town - they're everywhere - which will have all the event listings, as well as write-ups on TIFF stuff.

Despite some silly rules you might come across regarding driving in Toronto, one important thing to remember is that we have crosswalks, where people who wish to cross a street push a button, the yellow X signs flash, and cars are to stop to let pedestrians across. This really happens! People are supposed to wait for a break, push the button and cross when it's clear - but somehow they often think it's a magical crossing command, and assume cars are just going to stop and step out, even if the vehicles surprised by this end up flapping like an accordion and doing a handstand on two tires like in the cartoons.

Further, if you're passing a streetcar on the right, if it's stopped and the doors are open and the red lights are on, you do not pass it. Then, once the doors close, you may creep up and try to squeak around it, but sometimes it's just better to pretend that Toronto streets have two lanes: the one behind the streetcar, and the one that other cars are either parked or standing in.

I quite like brunch at the Dakota on a Sunday, if you're in town on that day.

If you have other musical or type of bar preferences, do say so and you'll get more specific references. But everything everyone else has suggested, especially in the market, is great.
posted by peagood at 2:19 PM on May 12, 2011

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