Every year (cf. The Year of Living Dangerously), like clockwork (cf. A Clockwork Orange), I brace myself (cf. Me, Myself and I) for another running of the Toronto International Film Festival. This year I'm armed with a daytime pass (up to 25 films) and a 10-coupon book. I used to aim for 50, but at that level the movies blur together.
They released the large, glossy program book on Tuesday, with glowing write-ups for each film. Look for code words. "A talent to watch": Wait for his next one. "Finely etched ... meticulously observed moments": Bring a pillow. "Provocative hints of allegory": Bring a history major. I'll start with wacky musicals (if any) and the Dialogues: Talking With Pictures series, which this year offers Max von Sydow in person introducing The Virgin Spring and Peter Bogdanovich introducing the rare silent John Ford film Bucking Broadway.
The Gala series lets you gape at movie stars and see films that will open in theatres soon anyway; I prefer the Special Presentation series, which sometimes gives you movie stars (who have more time to talk than at the Galas) and offers films that may not open quite as soon. But don't assume you can catch it later. Last year's wonderful fairytale-comedy Penelope, with Christina Ricci and Catherine O'Hara, has had its release date bumped several times and now appears unlikely to reach theatres until 2008, if then.
The schedule tells you when the films are being shown, usually twice each. Invariably all the ones you really want to see are being screened at exactly the same time. Either that, or one film ends at 6:28 p.m. and the other starts at 6:30, in a venue several blocks away. I try to leave half an hour between the end of one and the start of another, because anything can go wrong; shows start late, something malfunctions, special guests extend a question-and-answer session you don't want to leave. I rarely abandon a film before the end, but that's a function of my caution when picking movies. "Bold and convincing": Hmm, not convinced.
With ticket in hand, you're guaranteed a seat as long as you arrive at the theatre at least 15 minutes before the show.
Most of the time I fly solo, because I can find a seat to slip into at the last minute. With two or more, you feel obliged to turn up at least half an hour before the movie begins and join the long line snaking out from the theatre, where, if you're lucky, you can discuss films with the buffs on either side or, if you're unlucky, you can hear someone endlessly discussing a snub he received yesterday at the supermarket.
Festival volunteers, bless their hardy souls, will let you know whether the film before yours has been delayed, in which case you may be standing in line for a long time. This is usually a cue for the rain to start.
If you haven't worked food stops into your schedule, take something good from home to eat while you're standing in line. A couple of places in the Manulife Centre have decent sandwiches. The Elgin won't let you munch food at your seat; the Cumberland has a stand at the front of the line where you can buy muffins and the like. Human nature and the tyranny of the clock being what they are, chances are you'll wind up scarfing down junk food. I do. Hey, a ritual's a ritual.