July 4, 2011

THE BIJOU @ TIFF: The Road Begins

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Written by: Mitch Salem
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In September, SHOWBUZZDAILY will be attending the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF, for short).  This is the first in an intermittent series of pieces about the experience of TIFF-ing.
Every film festival has its own personality and place in the movie calendar.  TIFF has become hugely popular and important, especially in the last decade, because of its timing and location.  The festival is scheduled in September (this year it’s September 8-18), which coincides with the time US studios begin their “serious” movie season, aka their Oscar campaigns.  American Beauty got its kick-off at TIFF in 1999, and in recent years, such films as The King’s Speech, Juno, Brokeback Mountain, Up In the Air, and Black Swan had breakout showings at the festival.  There are other fall festivals, but they’re not quite as mainstream:  Venice is, well, in Venice; Telluride prides itself on an insular process that includes not announcing the films being screened until the festival actually begins; New York shows only a couple of dozen films and, despite occasional premieres like last year’s The Social Network, mostly confines itself to the defiantly esoteric.  Toronto casts a wide swath, with hundreds of movies (including several that will also have screened at Telluride and/or Venice, not to mention Cannes) ranging from mainstream Holywood releases to obscure international discoveries to “Midnight Madness” cult pictures, and it’s just a quick plane ride from media central in New York.

The broad array of TIFF films attracts an equally varied group of attendees.  There are the filmmakers themselves, the studio personnel who are variously there to promote their product and to acquire new films for distribution, the hordes of press, the Toronto natives enjoying the celebrities and events, and of course the humble film fans, there to devour as many films as the day permits.  (FYI, it’s possible, although by no means sane, to attend 6 films in a given day, with a new one starting roughly every 3 hours from 9AM to midnight–in practice, though, with staggered start times and venues scattered around the city, that can be logistically difficult.)
Today the first stage of the Toronto ticket process began.  (Actually, if you’re a TIFF “member,” which naturally requires a large contribution, you could have started last week.)  Ticket packages went on sale, in a great many varieties:  daytime movies only, limited to particular venues or particular categories of screening, etc.  Basically, though, they come in two general types:  “My Choice,” which permit ticketholders to designate their own movies (see below), and “TIFF Choice,” which are selected by the festival itself; these are presumably meant for dillettantes who just want to see something.   The “My Choice” packages range from 10-50 tickets, and tickets are priced fairly reasonably; a 30-ticket package works out to around $13 per screening, hardly more than a first-run movie at a big-city multiplex these days. 
Once the package is purchased, nothing happens for almost 2 months.  Well, that’s not quite true:  starting later in July, announcements will start to be made about just what films are going to be shown. (Yes, you have to commit to your ticket purchase before having any idea what films will actually be at the festival.)  The full festival schedule, though, isn’t released until August 23.  At that point, ticket selection books are mailed out to package holders, so that they can choose the titles they want to see; a random selection determines the order in which package selections are filled.
BUT…. not so fast.  Every film festival has its own special sadism, and TIFF’s chosen mode of cruelty to its packageholders is that it designates certain showings as “Premium Screenings.”  These could better be called “The Movies You Actually Want To See,” because they’re the initial showings of the big titles that attract the most mainstream attention.  Those cannot be chosen for package use (subsequent showings–but there aren’t many of them–can be chosen), but must instead be bought as Single Tickets, which don’t go on sale until September 3.  That’s also your second chance for trying to grab tickets for the movies you failed to get through your package–if you fail, all you can do is wait on the Rush Line outside the venue before the screening and hope for the best.  As you can imagine, Single Ticket Day is hell on earth, loud with the furious screams and tweets of attendees who can’t get through–and even worse, who think they’ve put through an online order only to have the site crash when “Confirm” is clicked. 
All that, though, comes later.  For now, the package is confirmed, the titles to be screened are alluring prospects barely beyond the horizon, and the TIFF experience is just beginning.  More to come…

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."