So, you want to attend a screening at the Toronto International Film Festival. If you’ve never been to TIFF, you may erroneously believe it’s just another day at the movies, but you’d be wrong. Screenings at TIFF are an inimitable experience: there’s a great deal of activity behind the scenes, the crowds are staggering and the high concentration of celebrities electrifies the city for two full weeks. In the midst of all this excitement, there are plenty of opportunities for etiquette faux pas, awkward encounters and other poor behaviour. You’re likely a pretty cool person, but even the most refined of us are prone to etiquette missteps now and then. Whether this is your first time attending the festival or you’re a seasoned veteran, we’re here to get you through the unique TIFF journey with grace and aplomb that would make Emily Post proud.
This essential TIFF etiquette guide takes you through everything from ticket purchasing to post-screening Q&As. But before we begin, let’s get this out of the way: turn your cellphone off. Don’t be that person; everyone hates that person.
1. Be prepared.
The first step in your odyssey is getting your hands on some tickets. This can be a bit stressful, as tickets sell fast and TIFF has a unique selection process. This brings us to our first pointer: be prepared! Knowing what to expect, and having backup selections, will make the process that much smoother. Plus, it’ll be quicker and easier for box office employees to help you. TIFF has an excellent website that will assist you in navigating the confusing terrain. In no time, you’ll be mastering the TIFF ticket process, feeling the flow and working it.
2. Avoid excessive fanboying and other crazy groupie behaviour.
Celebrities flock to our fair city during the first few weeks of September, and you may catch a glimpse of Rachel McAdams on the TTC or Tom Hardy at Montecito. This doesn’t mean you abandon all sense of human decency and descend into madness. When you run into a celebrity, you shouldn’t blurt out the first inappropriate thing that comes to mind. No one will appreciate being asked about his or her divorce. Likewise, telling Jake Gyllenhaal you loved him in The Avengers is just awkward for everyone involved. Just be cool — don’t accost anyone in a bathroom or mid-forkful. If you happen upon the red carpet as a celebrity is arriving, don’t embarrass yourself by trying to jump the velvet rope and grab his or her leg, and don’t obnoxiously yell for a photo. Just scrutinize paparazzi photos the next day, like the rest of us civilized people.
3. Don’t complain about the lines.
It’s screening day, which means you’re more than likely going to spend a good portion of it waiting in line. Whether you purchase your ticket in advance or plant yourself in the rush line to snag a last-minute spot, the line-ups at TIFF start early and last a while. The best course of action is to secure your place promptly and don’t complain. Everyone is experiencing the same long line and nothing kills the vibe quicker than a complainer. Expect to wait, enjoy the energy of the festival and get excited. Remember: the rush line is not a 100-percent guarantee you’ll get in. If you don’t get a ticket, be like Leonardo DiCaprio and accept your defeat with grace.
4. Treat the volunteers with respect.
Volunteers are asked “Is this the line for ticket holders?” approximately 17 times a minute. Trust the volunteer when they say, “yes.” They are not trying to screw you — there is quite likely a giant orange sign you haven’t looked for to confirm what they say. Keep in mind, however, that while volunteers may not know the answer to every question, they can likely find out. If you encounter this situation, it’s not the time for the huff, puff and eye roll. These people aren’t getting paid to manage toddler-style tantrums. Show a little compassion.
5. Sit from the middle out.
The line snaking around the building (twice) is finally moving and you’re making your way in. This brings us to our first piece of inside-the-theatre protocol: always try to sit in the middle of the row and gradually move outwards to the aisles. TIFF isn’t a typical movie experience. Since there are tons of people waiting in the rush line for a potential seat, sitting in this manner will make it easier for them to find seats. This, in turn, will allow organizers to determine how many rushers to let in more efficiently, which will ultimately get you to the opening credits sooner.
6. Skip the headgear.
Speaking of awkward seating situations, you most likely will not be sitting in a roomy Scotiabank AVX theatre. Many TIFF screenings take place at older locations (such as the Winter Garden), where seating is shallower than normal. Avoid those topknots and please remove your newest Goorin Bros. hat for the benefit of the festivalgoer behind you. At the very least, don’t be crappy when they ask you to take it off.
7. Master the art of discretion.
The actors and actresses are now filing into the theatre. We know you’re going to crane your neck to get a view of Ellen Page as she enters, and that’s expected. But after this initial peek, and perhaps one discrete photo, that should be it. No gawking at celebrities during the movie; no sneaky “selfies”; and no yelling for attention. You’re better than that, and moviegoers and celebrities alike want to enjoy the film in peace.
8. Embrace the pre-show or: how I learned to stop worrying and love the pomp.
The film is about to begin and it’s time for the pre-show messages. Inevitably, there will be a catchy commercial that repeat festivalgoers have become familiar with. Said people may dance, clap or sing. What you do during this moment is up to you: either give in to the cheese or avoid it altogether. However, outward disdain of ritualized pre-show practices is poor form. Sure, you can roll your eyes when people yell, “Arrrr!” during the anti-piracy message (thank you, Colin Geddes), if that’s how you feel, but what’s the harm? No matter what side of this debate you fall on, either join in the fun or silently judge. Speaking of the pre-show messages…
9. Always clap for the volunteers.
Enough said. (See number four, re: human compassion.)
10. Don’t be a jackass during the Q&A.
The show is over and it’s time for the Q&A. There’s always that one person who asks the most inane or offensive question during this segment, making the audience cringe. Learn from this individual: thoughtfully prepare your brief query in advance. Don’t spend too much time pandering with compliments — the audience and the subject want you to get on with the question. Also, please don’t make anyone feel uncomfortable with inappropriate personal questions, antagonizing comments or sexual come-ons. Stick to the movie and its topics, or film in general, and you should be safe.
Bonus general moviegoer etiquette tip: Spoiler alert — everyone will hate you if you ruin a movie.
Oftentimes during TIFF, you’ll have the opportunity to see a movie months before it arrives in theatres (if at all). This means you have the responsibility to not spoil it for your fellow moviegoers. Don’t blab on Twitter and don’t post revealing reviews on Facebook. Remember when everyone spoiled that episode of Game of Thrones for you? Still burns, doesn’t it?