The Toronto International Film Festival swept Toronto last month. Despite some unusual screening glitches, It seemed bigger, better, more energetic and more open to the general public than ever before. Perhaps this was due to the free public screenings, or maybe to the concentration of activities on King Street where the buzz in TIFF headquarters at the Bell Lightbox spilled onto the street.

When there are 455 odd movies on offer, choosing what to see is a big issue. Do I “waste” my TIFF tickets on movies that obviously will go mainstream? Do I treat TIFF as a cheap holiday abroad and see as many foreign films as possible? Do I seek out the “little gems” that will never make general distribution? Or do I just take my chances? The multiplicity of choices means that every one has a different experience, depending on what they see, which celebrities may be present, and who one meets in the lines.

I met a woman who told me she will have seen 81 movies during the ten days at TIFF. She is a member of the Patrons Circle and can access films without waiting in lines. That facilitates seeing up to six films a day. Most of us, however, are less frenetic, have less money, less energy, or are working. Unless, of course, you are like one of my colleagues who used to take her holidays during TIFF and see as many films as she could.

One of my retirement objectives was to re-engage with TIFF in a big way. I was also curious to see if I still had the stamina to see the movies, do the lines, and maintain the hours. Now that TIFF is over, I look back on it as a superb experience. I saw at least four movies that will likely be mainstream hits, eight foreign language films, six documentaries, three art films that will become classics, a musical from Scotland, and a South African rendition of Benjamin Britten’s classic opera Noye’s Flood. Of those, nine were world premiere screenings that featured question and answer sessions with the directors, producers and stars of the particular movie. These Q and A sessions with the professionals is one of the highlights of the festival, an opportunity to learn the scoop about production issues. 

Many people avoid TIFF because of the lines. The lines are notorious. The Toronto Star did a story on the self-preservation skills needed by people who wait in rush lines for potential tickets for up to seven hours. Even ticket holders who are assured entry persist in lining up to get the seating they prefer with their buddies. I don’t mind the TIFF lines. They are one of the few occasions when normally taciturn Torontonians actually speak to strangers. What films have you seen? What did you like? Easy openers that generally lead to exchanging good information. And you never know whom you might meet. This year, among others, I met a television producer from Puerto Rico, an ex-lawyer who has successfully given up law to write cookbooks, and who knows about the many others.

For a full listing of all films shown at TIFF 2013, with a description of each one, check out the website Tiff.net/the festival/filmprogramming and access the catalogue. This can be your guide to all these movies through the year. I will review some of the films I saw in future blogs.

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