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Pedestrians walking past the TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto on Sept. 7. The 47th edition of the Toronto International Film Festival has had hiccups with some fans having issues buying advance tickets.Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Tatiana Lopes knew that booking online tickets for the Toronto International Film Festival this year might be a doozy.

A writer and aspiring filmmaker, Lopes attended TIFF from 2014 to 2017, when they were a student at the Toronto Film School, and then again in 2019. They bought tickets in-person for each of those festivals. For the 2022 event, the only option was to purchase tickets online – and they were nervous.

“I have been buying concert tickets this year and it has been horrible,” Lopes said in an interview, elaborating on how organizers have generally been unprepared for the crush of people showing up to attend events after being in lockdown mode for two years. “I was kind of scared.”

Turns out that Lopes’ fears were valid. Like many others this year – TIFF members, the press, industry attendees – the film fan encountered a series of mounting digital frustrations that made them question how much the festival values its customers and stakeholders.

Everything you need to know about TIFF 2022

The most annoying part is that Lopes had done their homework. They became a “TIFF Insider” by signing up for a weekly newsletter. (TIFF Insiders get to buy individual tickets after subscription-paying TIFF Members, but before they go on sale for the general public.) After spending time researching on Reddit, they logged in on the morning of Sept. 4, in case presale codes were sent out early. The e-mail arrived just after 10 a.m., but when Lopes clicked through the link, they were directed to the TIFF website showing the schedule for all the films; Nothing was listed for “Insiders,” and when they tried to select a movie, events were listed as off-sale.

At the same time, some of Lopes’s friends who were TIFF Members were angrily tweeting about their experiences being unable to access the ticketing system, being booted off and having to refresh. On a whim, Lopes left their computer on, and noted that around 11 p.m., they were No. 300 in line. When they woke up the next morning, there was a message saying their turn had finally arrived, at 1:59 a.m.

Meanwhile, on Sept. 5, – Labour Day – American film journalist Jeff Sneider was trying to log on from Boston to redeem the press package during his allotted window of time at 6 p.m., which was assigned based on his media-level access, and could not be changed.

“I had to be on my computer while my family was enjoying the Labour Day holiday. And then I couldn’t sign in,” said Sneider, editor of the industry-news site, Below the Line, and a contributor to the popular newsletter, The Ankler. Like his peers, he tried calling the help line, where he was given a number and then spent the next 90 minutes on hold, securing no tickets in the process.

The next day TIFF acknowledged on one of its Twitter accounts “that some press and industry guests have had issues checking out their advance tickets” and offered a “new solution using vouchers.”

That tweak didn’t work for Sneider, who is flying in to follow the festival from Sept. 8 through 13. Most tickets available were for screenings after his departure, and he had already spent US$3,000 on the trip, confident that he would be able to cover the biggest presentations. But the real disappointment, Sneider said, was the lack of acknowledgement of the issue from multiple TIFF channels – an especially frustrating situation given that the festival relies on the attention and good will of the international press.

“Maybe next year, TIFF will make it up to me,” Sneider said. “Or maybe next year they’ll pull my badge.”

On Sept. 7, a TIFF newsletter went out to members of the press and industry with an apology from chief executive officer Cameron Bailey.

“As with all computer systems that we rely on, they are not infallible 100-per-cent of the time. We discovered an issue that was affecting some delegates and worked quickly to address it,” Bailey said. “A new approach to accessing your tickets was sent to all delegates, via our press and industry Twitter, and the response was positive. We are committed to improving our service in 2023.”

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