With nearly 400 films from 70 countries around the world, an army of volunteers, and 28 screens spread throughout the city, the Toronto International Film Festival is a massive undertaking and must be a huge organizational nightmare.
Like any major public event, TIFF is not without its problems. As the fest has grown in size and scope over the years, so too have a number of issues that have only been amplified by TIFF’s popularity. Here are four issues that TIFF needs to address sooner rather than later.
Its focus on big-name celebrities
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“Who cares what your movie is about; what are you wearing?”
TIFF has been criticized in recent years for putting too much focus on the celebrities that the event attracts every year. Many believe that the Hollywood A-listers and red carpet premieres take the spotlight away from deserving films and filmmakers trying to get noticed at TIFF, but there’s no denying that star power has helped the fest become a world class event and in turn help those indie directors and smaller movies get noticed.
The real stars at TIFF should be the movies – the actors and filmmakers are just a nice bonus. Celebrities will always be a draw at TIFF, but they shouldn’t be the be all and end all of the festival. It’s beginning to feel like TIFF is programming some movies based solely on the star power they would bring to the city, rather than the actual quality of the film itself. Unless TIFF wants to start being known as the Toronto International Celebrity Festival, they should try to find a balance.
The last few days of the festival
With star-studded gala premieres dotting the opening weekend of the fest, TIFF always manages to come out strong. But then things start to sort of peter out, and the tail end of the festival is nowhere near as exciting as the first five or six days. The galas stop, the parties end, the celebrities go home, and second and third screenings begin.
In the interest of having a more well rounded event, TIFF should consider spreading things out a bit. The 2013 festival is a front-loaded affair, with pretty much everything of note happening within the first few days. Saving some of the high profile galas for the waning days of TIFF would certainly keep the festival more lively in week two.
For an event that prides itself on being one of the largest public film festivals on the planet, TIFF sure makes it pricy for said public to attend certain screenings. TIFF ticket prices have ballooned in recent years and the fest has taken a lot of flak from moviegoers as a result. A regular TIFF screening used to cost just slightly more than a normal movie ticket, but a festival ticket now costs around $24.
Want to mingle with the stars and attend a red carpet premiere? A premium screening ticket will set you back $45 – and no, you won’t be sitting next to Brad Pitt or Sandra Bullock for that price. The fest went a little crazy with the premium screenings a few years back (making pretty much any film with a star in attendance a premium one), but it has since increased the number of regular screenings (which also feature stars and filmmakers) in the face of complaints about the cost.
The sprawl across Toronto
Though mostly concentrated in downtown core, TIFF’s many screening venues are still spread throughout the city. Granted, festival sprawl was more of a problem in the years before TIFF built its dedicated Lightbox cinema complex, but with far removed venues like The Ryerson, The Bloor Hot Docs Cinema, and the University of Toronto’s Isabel Bader Theatre still playing a major part in the festival, anyone with a multi-movie day is going to be doing a lot of travelling.
This north/south axis is based mostly on the fact that TIFF was once entirely relegated to Toronto’s Yorkville neighbourhood. As midtown venues began to disappear, things slowly crept southward to the city’s entertainment district, but despite events now being centered on TIFF’s Lightbox HQ in the south, many festival events and parties still take place in distant Yorkville.
As a ever-growing and constantly evolving beast, the Toronto International Film Festival will never be a perfect. All things considered, it's amazing how smoothly the annual festival seems to operate -- a credit to the folks in charge, to be sure. Serious problems are thankfully in short supply. But if TIFF wants to continue to be one of the top film events of its kind in the world, it needs to address some of these issues in the coming years or risk becoming a victim of its own success.
The Toronto International Film Festival runs from Sept. 5 to 15.