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TIFF for beginners: tips for enjoying North America’s finest film fest


Whenever I find myself in a conversation about the Toronto International Film Festival—which, admittedly, is often; attending the eleven-day extravaganza is one of my yearly highlights—I find myself mentioning how truly accessible it is to the filmgoing public. With a little planning, Western New Yorkers can easily have a wonderful day of marathon cinema and celeb-spotting.

Without further ado, here are a few tips for enjoying your first time at TIFF:


If you’re reading this and have not yet booked a hotel, don’t bother. 

By this time, most hotel rooms are booked. Simply plan to head up for one epic day. Leave early, buy individual tickets (starting September 6), and head to the festival ticket office to see what’s available as soon as you arrive in Toronto. Undoubtedly, you’ll be able to fill your day with anywhere from three to five films. You’ll end up driving home late, but it’s worth it. 


Don’t worry about seeing something “big.”

Gala premieres and special presentations sell out quickly, mainly so attendees can “ooh” and “aah” at the likes of Jake Gyllenhaal and Reese Witherspoon. (Who can blame them?) So spend some time reading up on the festival’s more obscure selections. There’s a good chance you’ll see a film that will never play Buffalo and may never even garner a North American release. 


Be on the lookout for famous faces.

Even if the screening you attend does not feature an appearance from the cast or filmmakers, odds are you’ll spot a recognizable actor or two during your visit. I’ve found myself sitting a few rows in front of Ivan and Jason Reitman, behind French hellraiser Gasper Noe (Enter the Void) and the ludicrously sultry Paz de la Huerta (Boardwalk Empire), and standing next to Tobias Fünke himself, David Cross.


Find time for a legitimate meal. 

In other words, do as I say, not as I do. Invariably I wind up eating a crummy street vendor hot dog or a slightly tastier burrito from a Chipotle-esque restaurant across from the TIFF Bell Lightbox. I asked my most trusted food advisor—Spree’s own Christa Glennie Seychew for her picks, which include Bar Isabel, Hopgood’s Foodliner, Fat Pasha, and Richmond Station. 


Consider skipping TIFF’s first weekend, and plan on the last day or two instead.

TIFF 2015 runs from September 10 to 20, and my advice is to make the trek to Toronto on the 19 or 20. The crowds have died down by this point, and while most of the celebrities have gone home, it’s a far less hectic experience. Of course, if you thrive on the chaos, there’s always TIFF’s first weekend, September 11 to 13.


Visit tiff.net, and obsessively study the public screening schedule.

Once the press and public schedules are released, I study as if it’s the night before my biology Regents exam, and I need a 90 to pass. Ask my wife how long I stare at the schedule in the days leading up to the festival, and you’ll be able to watch her brow furrow. But contemplating what to see is a TIFF pleasure.


Above all else, prepare yourself for a day of orgiastic cinematic joy.

If you love film, and you live in Buffalo, TIFF is a must. Don’t miss it. 



Watch the pages of Spree for more on TIFF15 from film critic Christopher Schobert.

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