Boasting red-carpet movie screenings and celebrity-saturated after-parties, the Toronto International Film Festival offers the hottest tickets in town. But with so many options, spread over 11 jam-packed days, it’s often difficult for newbies to navigate the festival circuit. The Globe and Mail asked those in the know for advice on how to make the most of the experience. From scoring seats at a glam premiere to spotting your fave thespian, here’s what they had to say:
GARY HYND: Bartender at the Park Hyatt Toronto
TIFF experience: 10 years. Hynd has prepared drinks for nearly 100 TIFF parties over the years he has worked at the hotel’s two rooftop lounges. Although Hynd, 39, enjoys serving manhattans, he says the festival’s drink of choice is champagne, with at least 30 bottles drained a night.
Favourite TIFF moment: Hynd has had his share of celebrity encounters. Five years ago, he made negroni cocktails for Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt. On another occasion, he nearly went to a club with James Gandolfini after work. “We were gonna go to a club downtown that was serving until 4 a.m.,” Hynd says. But alas, Project Party with a Soprano never happened because Gandolfini’s friends told him about another place that was open late.
TIFF tip: Hynd’s advice for TIFF scenesters is to attend parties on the first three nights of the festival (Thursday, Friday and Saturday). “It does start to get quiet after the first three,” he says. “That’s when all the glitz and glamour and the buzz is fresh.”
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BARBARA HERSHENHORN: President of Party Barbara Co.
TIFF experience: 20-plus years. As a seasoned event planner – she’s organized 250 TIFF parties – Hershenhorn says her goal for each function is to give guests a “lasting memory.” Among the big-ticket events she’s kicking off this year is TIFF’s opening-night cocktail reception at the Ritz-Carlton.
Favourite TIFF moment: One of her most memorable parties was for David Cronenberg’s M. Butterfly, where pyrotechnics were fired off a barge and choreographed to Malcolm McLaren’s song Madame Butterfly.
TIFF tip: Hershenhorn’s advice for party-hoppers on the prowl for celeb sightings is simple: “Circulate. You’ll never know who’s around the corner until you get up and start moving about.”
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ANNE GALLAGHER: Volunteer for the Toronto International Film Festival
TIFF experience: six years. She has been a TIFF volunteer since 2005, and estimates that she spends 300 hours a year helping out before and during the festival. Gallagher, 49, started taking tickets and organizing lineups as a theatre volunteer, but her responsibilities soon expanded to include helping with learning workshops at the TIFF Bell Lightbox (for the past few years, she has also worked at the box office during the festival).
Favourite TIFF moment: Gallagher’s experience as TIFF volunteer kicked off with an auspicious start. On her first day at the Varsity Theatre, the first person she signed in to the screening was movie critic Roger Ebert.
TIFF tip: Gallagher’s advice for new volunteers is to submit their applications early in May, and to volunteer in the action-packed theatres: “The best thing to do your first year of TIFF is to work in the theatres because it is the front line, and you get a sense of what the festival is really about.”
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HEIDI ZARSE: Attendee of the Toronto International Film Festival
TIFF experience: seven years. Zarse has been attending TIFF since 2004, after moving to Toronto from Minnesota. For the past few years, she has watched 10 to 15 films during each festival, screening them on the weekends or evenings after work. As a self-described film buff, Zarse, 34, who now also volunteers at TIFF, has been to Hot Docs in Toronto and film festivals in Austin, Tex. As for TIFF, she says she is open to seeing everything from documentaries to foreign films, and tries to catch the festival’s Midnight Madness program every year.
Favourite TIFF moment: She managed to score a ticket for George Clooney’s Up in the Air on the day of the film’s premiere at TIFF 2009.
TIFF tip: This September, Zarse says she aims to watch 22 movies, and plans to create a schedule using the calendar on TIFF’s website – something she recommends for festival newbies. Zarse adds that moviegoers should not be discouraged in the face of long lineups and sold-out tickets: “In general, just [don’t]be intimidated thinking that it’s impossible to get tickets. Even if a film is off-sale, tickets come back after people exchange them or they open up the same day.”