If you’ve got an interest in film, you probably already know that the Hot Docs Festival begins tomorrow and runs until May 9th. Are you going to see anything? You definitely should. There are 166 films screening (many of them more than once), from 41 different countries, including 20 world premieres! Wait – that sounds a bit daunting, actually. ‘How do I pick what to see?’ you ask. Well, Toronto Film Scene is here to help with a few tips on how to attend (and perhaps survive) the film festival. If you don’t know all there is to know about film festival attendance, then this is a public service post for you.

When you look a the HUGE book that is the Hot Docs program, it’s easy to be intimidated. A better strategy might be to grab a coffee, sit at a computer, open the online schedule, and take a look around. The online schedule allows you to sort the overwhelming array of choices by ‘Highlights’, ‘Alphabetically’, ‘by Date’, ‘by Subject’, and by ‘Screening Program’. Loads of ways to slice and dice it, and you can save your choices by building your own schedule. Easy.

When you’re building your schedule, don’t forget to leave time to get between locations. The festival runs at the Bloor Cinema, Cumberland, Innis Town Hall, the Isabel Bader Theatre (across from the ROM on U of T’s Victoria College), the ROM Theatre, and The Royal Cinema. Some of those are pretty close together, others require a walk or a subway ride, so definitely take that into account when scheduling your movies. It’s also important to remember that many of the screenings will have Q&As with the filmmakers, which is one of the best parts of the festival experience. Try not to schedule yourself too tightly, causing you to have to bail on a great film experience.

Seems simple, but don’t forget to leave time to eat! Not all venues will allow you to bring food in, while others will serve concessions you can purchase. It’s a 10-day festival and you can’t subsist on just popcorn alone (trust me, I’ve tried!), so make sure you leave a little room in your lineup for some grub. If you’re going to pack snacks to eat on the go, remember to be respectful of the theatres who won’t allow you to eat while watching the movie.

So, now you’ll want tickets. In the online schedule, click on the film you want to see. Beside each screening will be, in the ‘Buy Ticket’ column, a ‘ Buy ‘ icon (should be self-explanatory) or a ‘ Rush only ‘ icon (which means there is a very limited number of seats available). ‘Rush only’ tickets require a bit more effort on the part of the festival-goer. Basically, the film is sold out, but there are always a few seats available near showtime (ticket/pass holders often don’t show up). Approximately 10 minutes before the screening, on a first come, first serve basis, the screening venue will sell off the remaining seats, and if you’re standing in the rush line, you may be able to snag a seat.

So, that’s how it works. Easy right?   But here are a few tips and things to keep in mind for general festival consumption:

  1. If you’re going the rush ticket route, prepare yourself: you may not get to see the film you want to see. Have some alternatives at the ready so that your week isn’t filled with disappointment. I like to have a nice mix of purchased tickets and rush possibilities so that I know I’ll get to see something.
  2. Festivals are movie grab-bags, so be flexible and adventurous – if you can’t see the one you want, see the one you can. Your second choice might just introduce you to your new favourite director.
  3. No matter what films you choose, or whether you choose to buy tickets or rush line it, don’t forget to have fun!

You, Torontonians, are some of the luckiest people in the world when it comes to great Film Festivals in your own town. So get out there to Hot Docs and take advantage of it. For more information on Hot Docs, please visit their website, or call the box office at 416-637-5150.

Want more awesome Toronto film news, reviews and more? Sign up for our feed by RSS or email and never miss a post!