Why do people really go to TIFF?

The beginning of September can always be an exciting time and I am not talking about our overwhelming emotions to ditch our mind-numbing summer jobs and dive into the world of textbooks, three hour lectures and study sessions. That too is a nice thought but more specifically, I am talking about that special time when Toronto can feel like Hollywood.

Although Toronto is a hot spot for production companies year-round, the influx of stars, films and products for the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) can make us Canadians feel special. I felt proud to boast that Brad Pitt was hanging out in my city (and that my grandmother had the pleasure of sitting across from George Clooney at an Italian restaurant)!

It is advertised all over Toronto’s newspapers and is even acknowledged on TIFF’s main website: half of what TIFF is resides in the publicity that occurs — the special press conferences that numerous celebrities hold. But for us, we want to see what A-listers wore or where they we were eating; we want to stand in lines in hopes of getting autographs or seeing the new mainstream films. It gives off an adrenaline rush when you can turn to your friends later boasting that you were that person who snapped a picture of a not-so-amused actor/director/producer and it is all over Facebook or your current smartphone background.

As exciting as stargazing can be, a part of me becomes perplexed during these ten days as well. As a film major, I find TIFF to be an opportunity to browse numerous international films that we normally would not have the opportunity of viewing. Seeing a foreign film projected in a gorgeous theater — my film screenings took place at the lavishing Elgin theater that felt like a picture palace — seems like a dream come true, but for others they do not want to be bothered by it. Instead, they are fawning over films such as Drive and Moneyball, which do seem like exciting films, but they will also be released in the next month or so. This is a chance to see international films that may not even be released until 2012.

This is where the internal tug-of-war kicks in: why waste money on these mainstream films when some of them will be released in theatres soon after? Is it worth standing in line for hours to catch a glimpse of James Franco or Ryan Gosling when they look tired and somewhat annoyed at their audience, who are just screaming and shoving smartphones in the air?

Star gazing not only confuses me but also people’s disappointment when they realize that one of the films they got in their ticket bundle turned out to be a subtitled film; an action that I witnessed numerous times via Facebook and Twitter. It is as if there should be disclaimers warning moviegoers that the films they are about to see may be subtitled, black and white or just “not Hollywood.”

However is that not the point of going to see films at TIFF? Where did the true art of going to TIFF go?

It is understandable that people do not necessarily want to see artsy films or read from a screen. We all have our film preferences, and everyone who is willing to shell out money for expensive ticket bundles deserves to see the films that appeal to them. However, I think that going to TIFF should steer away from shoving yourself into a crowd of crazed fans or being one of the hundreds who got to see Moneyball first. Take this opportunity to go and view films that you would not normally see in a theatre. You may end up surprised and realizing that although you may be watching something foreign, it can hit a spot that feels really familiar.

So, what I propose for TIFF 2012 is this: do your research and expand your viewing tastes. TIFF has composed a very informative and easy-to-follow website that offers detailed descriptions of each film being played — even stating what country, the duration of the film, or whether or not it will be screened in 35mm print or on a digital projector. They are heavily connected with social media and have YouTube videos on how to properly purchase tickets or offer trailers to films that you are about to see.

Even better, TIFF has released a special app that recommends films that would be best for you based on clicking off genres and/or the countries that the films were made in. Use these resources and go out and explore.

Not all will be five star films or resemble the elements that you hope to see in a Hollywood mainstream film, but it is the art of exploring. Maybe after all that, a miracle will happen and your dreams of bumping into your favourite A-lister will come true.