Thursday, July 9, 2009

Changes to your Festival

The Toronto International Film Festival recently announced several improvements to this year's festival. Most of these are in response to the overwhelming public resistance to last year's changes.

In 2008, TIFF implemented numerous modifications that effect how the ticketing procedure works. The change that caused the most controversy was that preferential treatment was given to donors at the Benefactor Level (a donation of $250 ormore) by processing their ticket submissions first in the Advance Order procedure, ahead of the rest of the general public.

Also of great concern was that the festival was putting too much emphasis on the high profile premieres. Screenings at the VISA Screening Room and Galas at Roy Thompson Hall saw price increases. The VISA Screening Room presentations, once available to those with passes at the standard rate,were now ineligible for use with the Coupon books in the Advance Order process. Meanwhile on a smaller scale, programs dedicated to challenging cinematic boundaries shrunk (Visions and Vanguard) while premieres in the Discovery program greatly increased.

For fear that the festival was becoming too elitist with priority given tothe rich, many critics lashed out publicly (read about it here and here) with the belief the festival's actions contradicted much of the idea that TIFF was the democratic "people's festival".

So this year, TIFF appears to be making an asserted effort to repair their relationship with festival-goers. Mailers sent out months in advance of this year's festival outlined significant changes to both their customer service and ticketing options.

Here is an overview of the changes you can expect to see this year, some of which are still being developed as planning for this year's festival continues:

  • · Repeat Gala Screenings will be available to ticket package-holders. Unlike last year, the repeat screenings of gala films will be available to those with passes or coupons.

  • · Increased access to the Visa Screening Room at the Elgin Theatre for ticket package-holders. Roughly half of these screenings will be at regular ticket prices and available to those with passes or coupons. I suspect most of these will be daytime, non celebrity driven titles, but I could always be wrong. If I had one qualm, it would be that all VISA Screening Room titles should be available to pass/coupon holders as they had been years before. I suggest hiking the price of the 8 pack instead, as these typically sell out due to high demand.

  • · Reduction of wait time for advance order pick ups. This includes identifying a better location for traffic flow, increased hours on pick-up day (Sept 3rd), and doubling the number of operators available on pick-up day. I am never available to pick up my tickets on the first day. Is this of great importance to those that do? What has the experience been like in the past?

  • · Ensuring a premium experience for premium-priced screenings and defining clear criteria for those premium-priced screenings. Premium screenings are defined as the first public screening at TIFF at either Roy Thomson Hall or the VISA Screening Room at the Elgin Theater. It will also meet at least one of the following criteria:
    1. Be a red carpet event
    2. Be a North American premiere (at minimum)
    3. Include a Q&A with either the director or principal cast member. This I find to be an interesting inclusion since I have never been to a screening at either locations that included a Q&A…maybe a bloated introduction by the director, but never a Q&A.

  • · The single ticket sales will start on September 4 - six days prior to the beginning of the Festival.

  • · The Festival Programme Book and Advance Order Books are available a week earlier, starting August 25 and due August 31st, allowing six days for festival-goers to drop off their selections. That’s three more days than before. This is especially good for us out of towners who receive our books a day late and have to send them in a day early to make the lottery. Hopefully this will alleviate the “2-day scramble” we’ve all become accustomed to.

  • · Completed Advance Orders will be available for pickup on September 3 (this is a Thursday and not a holiday), before the Labour Day long weekend.

  • · In hopes to raise the event's profile, TIFF organizers are shifting and lengthening the red carpet outside Roy Thomson Hall by a few hundred feet. This will give the stars greater opportunity to interact with the crowds and media. Read more about this development here. This can only be a good thing in my opinion. Ever since TIFF “reorganized” the ticket holder’s lines in front of Roy Thomson Hall two years ago, the entry process has been disastrous. Hopefully, considering the cost of the tickets, things will be a bit more organized this year.

  • · Prices have gone up on many popular packages, but not by much. Price have increased between $4.64 and $15.27 based on the package. The good news is the Wavelengths program actually dropped in price by $11.09.

  • · Due to great demand, the 30-pack “Festival Package Lite” is back. Limit one ticket per screening.

  • · The new City to City program. It’s an exciting new programme that will explore the evolving urban experience while presenting the best documentary and fiction films from and about a select city. City to City's first location is Tel Aviv.

  • · Galas continue to be available as single tickets only, available Sept 4th when all single tickets go on sale.

  • · New ticket packages available this year:
    - The Visa Screening Room at the Elgin Packages provides more access to one of the Festival's most popular venues, with 2-Day, 3-Day, Weekend and Mid-Festival packages to choose from.
    - The Double Date Gala Package offers two sets of four tickets, a total of eight tickets, to evening Gala programming at Roy Thomson Hall selected by Festival Directors.
    - The City to City Package offers one ticket to each of the City to City premiere screenings, two screenings per evening, from September 13 through September 17.

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