I first went to TIFF over 10 years ago, it was pretty much the first thing I did when I moved to Toronto. Not on purpose, but I noticed it was happening and I was a bit of a film geek so I went to two screenings. I saw Waking Ned Devine and I Woke Up Early the Day I Died. I'm moderately surprised that I Woke Up Early has been seen by people outside of the festival circuit. I mean really - it's a movie with no dialogue based on an unfinished Ed Wood script. Strange, to say the least. Anyway, for those of you who want to see movies at TIFF and don't know where to start, I am here to help! Sort of.
OMG tickets are all sold out! No they're not. There are about a million ways to do this and I'm not going to get into them because someone else has, read all about it here (this website is awesome in general for TIFF info).
Oooo but tickets are so expensive! Then go volunteer and get vouchers that you can trade for tickets. Note, the volunteer process has gotten increasingly obnoxious over the years and it looks like now you have to fill out an "application form" and do it in kinda far in advance. There's lots of ways to not pay full price though. You can sometimes find tickets under face value on Craigslist/Kijiji, there's lots of ticket giveaways, random discounted tickets (sometimes via corporate discounts), and sometimes if you're standing in a rush line people will just give you tickets.
I just wanna see famous people! Where are the famous people?! Everywhere. Roy Thomson Hall is the favourite area of most celebrity stalkers and if there's a red carpet at a venue, it's pretty obvious. Just wander around the city until you find large groups of excited people with cameras near a theatre. Princess of Wales is also good for this.
What movie should I see?? I'm not doing all the work for you, go do your own research. The TIFF website will have a description of all the films and when they're scheduled to play beginning about two weeks before the festival. Can't wait that long? Don't want to navigate their shitty website? Keep an eye on the press releases or try this website which has descriptions and some reviews. (p.s., best scheduling method? http://tiffr.com/ )
But there are so many movieeeeees! Help meeeeee! Okay, I'll give you a general overview of the categories. General rule of thumb is that the Gala screenings at Roy Thomson Hall (RTH) are your big name films with big name stars. Special Presentations are a bit of a toss-up, they can also be pretty big films but may be a bit less mainstream. If you really have no clue what to watch, I've always found Special Presentations to be pretty reliable. Reel to Reel are documentaries. Try them out sometime, maybe you'll learn something. Midnight Madness (MM) is kind of exactly what it sounds like. If you don't know what Army of Darkness is, maybe this is not for you (note: check the Vanguards programme for this type of stuff also). I have no idea what Wavelengths really is, but I went to a screening the first year the programme was added and watched a series of short films that were like, just a square. Or just a ladder. I would be wary of any Wavelength films. There's other categories, but they all become a bit more of a jumble.
Ummm I don't want to watch a square for five minutes. How do I pick something non-crappy? Research. Or find someone with similar taste and just follow them around. Even if I told you what I'm planning to watch, there's about a 90% chance that you won't want to see the same things. Trailers will be available for many of the films and you can also look for certain key words that you like or want to exclude. If you don't want to read a million film descriptions, stick to the bigger venues, you should be pretty safe with RTH, the Elgin or Ryerson (unless it's MM), they tend to have more 'normal' movies (overall, if I was going to totally blind-pick a random TIFF movie at the $20 price which most people would be ok watching I'd opt for something showing at the Elgin). Oh yeah, and be careful of the words "avant-garde" especially if it's connected to Wavelengths.
I don't like this, it's too hard! Don't get discouraged! It's not hard at all! Forget everything I said above, if you've never been to TIFF but are curious about it, just wander over to one of the box offices after they start selling single tickets to the public (about a week before the festival) or even during the festival. You'll see a big board with all the movies and when they're scheduled. Some of the movies will be crossed out, so the box office can't sell you a ticket, but just pick a day and time you like and go from there (this is actually exactly how I started). Doing all the research can help you if you want to see several things or are super picky about what you see, but if you just want to have a peek, then it's easy! It's like going to a regular movie, but you'll see something that you might not normally see, it'll be fun!
Yes, I know that TIFF is a big, confusing jumble. But just keep in mind that if you want to see a movie and aren't too picky, it's actually quite easy and not too different than seeing a regular movie :)