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The little things that make The Toronto Film Festival great

The Toronto International Film Festival draws to a close this weekend. It was a delight to have the chance to attend and cover the event. The resulting film reviews will be turning up for weeks to come, if not months as awards season creeps in.

The big draw at TIFF is, of course, the vast variety of interesting, quality films; but some of the details which make TIFF special and enjoyable include small matters that may not get a regular mention, but are fun to point out.

My own TIFF Top Five list:

1. It’s an unabashedly silly festival tradition that members of the audience will call out “Arrr!” in the manner of pirates whenever the pre-film, anti-video piracy message appears on the screen.

2. By far, the loudest and most sustained applause I encountered at the festival was not for celebrities, directors, or even any of the films, but the outburst of spontaneous cheers that broke out each time a message of thanks to the festival volunteers appeared on screen before a film. It’s true, TIFF literally could not happen without the many volunteers, easily identified by their bright orange shirts, who spend the day managing crowds, trying to find a patron that all-important ticket, making custom film recommendations to the movie-lover with an empty time slot to fill, running errands, cleaning theatres – and all for no pay beyond a few free tickets when their shift is done – but it is pleasant to see such clear and enthusiastic recognition of their work. Would that all volunteer labour was as warmly acknowledged.

3. The festival brings out an astonishing range and quality of street corner busker talent, from the first-rate blues duo entertaining the crowds leaving the subway at the TIFF stop, to the elderly man playing a koto just around the corner from the main theatre.

4. The number of people who can be found passionately discussing film – a movie, a director, a genre, or even a favourite line of dialogue – while standing in line, sitting at any café within two blocks of the festival, or while sitting on the floor along the cinema wall between showings, the latter being a common sight throughout the festival being people exhausted from a week-long movie binge, living on popcorn and little else. The discussions, which sometimes draw in random people who are not even attending the festival, cross-age, language, ethnic, class, and professional categories, and for a week or so humans are categorised mainly according to things like whether they love Bollywood, hate subtitles, or agree that the Rosemary’s Baby should never have been permitted.

5. Although not a high-profile aspect of the festival, TIFF is one of the most accessible events of its kind, offering various kinds of mobility devices, assisted hearing devices, closed captioning, ‘captiveview’ screens, descriptive sound, ASL (sign language) translators for all non-movie events. Fully accessible seating is available in the theatres. TIFF has indicated it is seeking out suggestions for making the festival more fully accessible. One result is that TIFF is readily attended by film lovers who might hesitate to attempt such an event, such as the marginally disabled, elderly or physically frail. The kindness and patience of most people at TIFF when faced with a mobility-challenged or slow-moving patron, possibly taking its cue from festival policy, is readily apparent.

[MORE] – TIFF: The Women of the Toronto Film Festival