Queueology: The Toronto International Film Festival 2010

So here is the deal, you all know I usually write about volunteering at festivals, as that‘s the whole point of having this blog. At TIFF though volunteers aren‘t supposed to write about volunteering. Fair enough, was pretty happy with getting accepted anyway, now I just had to come up with a new theme for the blog post. Well, it wasn‘t too hard to find one really as the very first day I went to the box office there was a long queue for buying tickets. It took me over an hour to get to a ticket counter and man, you do wanna come prepared. There were people with elaborate, handdrawn schedules of choices a, b and c in case some films were already sold out. The way TIFF works, and I will explain this properly a bit later, is that there are all sorts of privileges for members which means that buying single tickets is a bit of a lottery. They become available or unavailable in pretty unpredictable patterns. The good thing is, if you actually get a ticket (the privilege of which sets you back $20 for regular screenings and around $40 for galas) after queuing for about the length of a feature film it makes you feel like you‘ve actually won the lottery.

Apart from the box office queues there were also some other interesting queues which happened throughout the festival. My favourite one was probably the rush line in the AMC cinema at Dundas. To the ininitiated: rush lines are standby lines which tend to form around two hours or more (depending on how desperate people are) before the screening of a film. People line up in the hope that some last minute tickets will become available. As the AMC has a couple of screens but everyone queued in a corner of the food court in one line they had a system of handing out coloured tickets for different films. In order to explain how this system works a TIFF staff member stood on a chair and blew a whistle (I kid you not) to get everybody‘s attention. Of course that way she also got everybody else‘s attention in the food court who were staring at us as if to say who are all these eejits being herded in the corner like a bunch of cattle? We then got handed the coloured tickets and the ‚lucky ones‘ were told to follow a volunteer like a group of ducklings across the entire food court (OMG!) to the ticket counter were we speed bought our tickets, rushed upstairs and into the cinema where the screening was about to begin. Believe me, you haven‘t done TIFF if you haven‘t humiliated yourself by queuing in a rush line at least once during the festival.

Another quite fun queue was the one for the opening of the new TIFF Bell Lightbox building. I was early but of course there was already a queue to be the first people to get into the building after the ribbon cutting ceremony. I got myself some food and, of course, joined the line. Shortly after a Colombian guy from the hostel turned up and we had the most interesting conversation with a woman whose partner once set up his own queuing system spontaneously at a concert. He was there first and figured it would get a bit chaotic at some stage, so he took out pen and paper and assigned numbers to people. Needless to say he had number 1 and he also went and informed the organisers that he‘d set up this system so they would make sure he got in first. Genius!

What probably summed the whole queueing experience in Toronto up for me was the answer I got from a guy queuing outside a five star hotels in Toronto waiting for one of the many movie stars to come out. I asked who he and the others were all waiting for and he just shrugged and said ‚Oh, no one in particular, I just saw a queue so I got in line.‘ Torontonians, it seems, cannot resist the tempation of a good queue whenever there is an opportunity for getting in line. I know it might sound funny, but after two weeks here I don‘t even think that‘s strange anymore. In fact, the day after the festival I was kind of disappointed that there weren‘t any queues to be had anywhere in the city. That was the best indicator that the ‘festival of queues‘ had truly and very sadly come to an end after ten wonderful days of all things film.

P.S. There was this Carribean food place opposite the office that I used to have lunch in and guess what they had on the menu? Something called ‚festival‘ for $1! I asked another customer what it was and it seemed to be something corn based and fried, must find out how they came up with the name for it.

In case you‘re planning on attending TIFF next year, here are a few best practice queuing tips worth taking note of:

– If you want to get tickets for specific films and events and avoid (most of) the queues, there is no way around getting a TIFF membership (different types available). That way you get priority booking online weeks ahead and a special (shorter) queue at the box office. It can be expensive but can pay off if you‘re a real movie buff.

– Student passes, which are excellent value, go on sale and sell out weeks before the festival, so get on the mailing list or note the date listed on the website in your diary, it‘s worth it (I wish I‘d known about this myself).

– Single tickets: If it‘s already festival time and you‘re trying to get a ticket for a specific film check the website if tickets are still available. If not, there might have been some returned, so by all means go to the box office and try your luck there (they close at 7pm at night and will still let you join the queue until about half an hour before or so). Make sure you have a plan B as you don‘t want to queue again and again for one ticket each. It makes sense to check the big poster outside the box office to see which films are off sale to avoid disappointment.

– Rush lines: It‘s difficult to judge when it is a good time to line up in the rush queue. I walked past the Roy Thomson Hall one evening about two hours before a gala and there were only two people in the rush line before me. That‘s when it makes sense to queue up if you have the time. Some people even handed out tickets for free to those waiting if they had spare ones or sold them if somebody was willing to pay for them (not allowed but of course happened). People were also usually very friendly and kept your space if you needed to get food or go to the bathroom as it can be a long wait. The longest rush line was probably the one for a Bruce Springsteen event where around 500 people apparently queued for hours (as in ten or so!). None of them wanted to leave the queue even though there are usually only about a dozen tickets or less released last minute for each show.

– If you really want to see a particular actor or director, you can also line up at the entrance of a theatre before a gala event (check the programme for times and locations). About two hours before the screening starts is a good time to get a great spot for taking pictures of the red carpet action.

– There are a lot of cool peripheral events happening during the festival everywhere in town. Some are invite only parties, some are happy hours in local bars, some are film related talks and workshops run by other organisations, such as DocToronto.

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