The marketing for the 2014 edition of the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) features the tagline “This is Your Film Festival.” In many ways, this is a valid tagline for a top tier film festival, which prides itself for being accessible to the public. Unlike other top film festivals such as Cannes, which are typically industry-only events, TIFF has public screenings for all of their films and considers the People’s Choice Award to be their top prize. However, the “This is Your Film Festival” tagline also comes off as ironic, in a year when criticism about the increase of TIFF’s ticket prices has reached a fever pitch.
Something isn’t right when longtime attendees look at the prices—which go as high as $1808 for a 100 ticket package—and consider skipping the festival altogether.
Back when TIFF was formed in 1976, it was known as the “Festival of Festivals,” and was programmed to feature the best films from film festivals around the world. Celebrating its 39th edition this year, a lot has changed for TIFF. TIFF is now one of the biggest film festivals in the world and the festival now focuses on world premieres and generating Oscar buzz, which is quite different from its origins as a “greatest hits” film festival. In fact, TIFF’s focus on world premieres became a source of criticism this year, as the festival enacted a strict policy to deter advertised world premieres from being “previewed” at other festivals, particularly at the Telluride Film Festival.
As TIFF grew into a bigger more world class film festival, the criticisms of the festival also grew. Much of this criticism started to emerge within the last decade or so, with the steady expansion of TIFF’s premium screenings. There was a time when the increased premium ticket price was reserved solely for the galas at Roy Thompson Hall. Now it seems that the premium designation is given to any high profile screening, where well-known talent is expected to show up. It also seems that no TIFF programme is immune from getting a premium screening. It was a big deal back in 2012 when the Midnight Madness selection Seven Psychopaths was labeled as a premium screening, which was a first in the late-night programme’s history.
The increase in premium screenings, along with the rows of reserved seating that often accompanies them, has caused some to criticize TIFF for becoming elitist and catering more to their sponsors and donors than the general public. The yearly increase in ticket prices, which now has regular screenings priced at $24, does not really help to dissuade this growing mindset. TIFF may be a film festival that is open to the public, however it is getting increasingly more difficult for the average person to afford more than a couple of screenings.
Now, it’s perfectly possible for a budget-minded person to have a decent experience at TIFF. The back half pack, consisting of six films from the second half of the festival, is quite affordable at $74. However, TIFF is a festival best experienced by seeing ten or more films. With the minimum price for TIFF’s flex packs being $200, some folks might not be willing to pay that much, especially with many TIFF selections having their regular theatrical release shortly after their TIFF premiere.
Considering the fact that single tickets for TIFF was about $10 less a decade ago, the question has to be asked why the prices keep going up? The most likely answer is that TIFF has perhaps grown a bit too big and needs to increase the prices to help with keeping up the costs of running the festival. In addition, with the opening of the Bell Lightbox four years ago, TIFF now has much more than the festival to run.
While the reasoning for the high ticket prices can probably be understood, it does not really make them easier for the general public to swallow. Many people may look at the prices now and come to believe that TIFF is only a film festival for those with deep pockets who can afford to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars for a full festival experience. However, TIFF is a different experience for different people and while some may opt for a full experience of 60 or more films, others may neglect films entirely and just photograph celebrities on the red carpet.
So, can TIFF still be considered the people’s festival, if the people cannot really afford to see the films? The answer to that question lies with the individual. Some people will indeed look at the expensive festival TIFF has become and decide that it no longer worth going to and perhaps consider going to one of the countless smaller film festivals that happen in Toronto. On the other hand, others will likely continue to go to TIFF despite the prices, because they just love the festival experience so much.