The TIFF Junkies

7 minute read
Susan Catto

They use up vacation time, obsess over schedules and plot the shortest walking path between theaters. And for ten days each September, they disappear into the dark for hours at a time, emerging dazed or euphoric, tearful or bored before heading back to do it again. True festival junkies see three, four, even six movies a day, often eschewing the blockbusters-to-be in favor of films that won’t make it to DVD, much less mainstream theaters. We asked a few veterans about their tight schedules, the days before advance ticket sales, and the rush they get from a celluloid overdose.

Attending TIFF since: 2001

What are your plans for this year’s Festival?
I’ve taken 10 days off work, and my brother has taken off seven days. Last year we bought a 25-pack [of tickets], then we found more films we wanted to watch so we bought individual tickets. This year we’re going bigger. We’re each getting two ten packs and a daytime pass, which is unlimited — so it’s basically about 30 films each.

What do you like to see?
I stick with a lot of dramas and horror movies. I try to get the most obscure ones possible. I think about 70 or 80 percent of the films I saw last year haven’t come out yet. And I go to one gala, just so I can be into the whole Festival vibe. I went to Babel (2006) and saw Brad Pitt…

How does it feel to watch three or four films in a row?
It’s a real mind-boggler. You see one, you talk about it a bit and you go to the next one, and the next, and you’re still trying to think about the first one you saw. Then you’re back in reality — you’re still in the mindset of the movie theater, in the dark, and you have to go out and go home.

That makes for a long day.
It seems like a chore to do it sometimes. Like, I can’t believe I’m getting up at 7:30 a.m. to see a movie, but we still do it. At the end of the day we’re tired. I don’t know how it’s possible to get physically tired sitting in a movie theater, but we’re exhausted.

Attending TIFF since: 1990

Do you remember your earliest Festival experiences?
I think the first year I saw 10, the next year, maybe 20, but you had to line up an hour and a half for each movie so it limited the number of movies you could see.

They introduced advance ticket sales in 1993 — do you miss the lines?
It became a ritual: you’d bring your coffee and your food, pull out your book and start reading about movies. [But] I don’t miss the lines.

What else has changed?
It seemed a little more intimate [back then]. The director would always be there for every showing. I still remember seeing Steven Soderbergh at two o’clock in the middle of the afternoon for his Spalding Gray documentary in 1996.

Any other interesting encounters?
I was at a screening — I think it was an Alan Rudolph movie — and the director had come out afterwards. This guy in the audience kept asking questions and at one point the director asked, “and what did you do in your film?” It was Quentin Tarantino — he had just done Reservoir Dogs.

What are your plans for this year’s Festival?
It’s changed a little for me because I have kids and a heavy work schedule. I’ve allotted myself a certain time off and whatever that fits in that schedule, I will see. It’s almost at a stage where I think anything American or with a name actor is not worth seeing. I go for the offbeat film. It’s one of the few places where something like a small Serbian film will get a full house, where people can see films they won’t get to see anywhere else.

Attending TIFF since: 1982

How many films do you watch in a row?
I used to see four in a day, but it’s a little bit too much for me these days. Three is my limit. I still see enough movies — I’m movied out by the end.

At the end of a four-film day, would you remember everything you’d seen?
I could remember the title and I could remember if I liked it or didn’t like it, but often I couldn’t remember the story line. It was a little bit confusing. But in the moment it was quite wonderful, sitting in the theater and seeing another one, enjoying it — or not — and seeing the next one.

How many will you see this year?
I buy 30 tickets, and my husband comes to three or four. I will probably see about 20 this year.

How do you make your picks?
I have lots of friends who are very interested and we have a little core group. We might meet for coffee at somebody’s house and go through the catalog and bounce things off each other. If I saw something in the Festival previously by a particular director and I liked it, I would look out for that director. I try to choose something from each category except Midnight Madness — it’s too late for me.

What are you hoping to see this year?
I’m interested in seeing Fugitive Pieces but I’ll see that afterwards. I’m looking forward to seeing more documentaries and more Canadian film content.

How do you squeeze in meals on movie days?
We don’t eat fancy meals. I eat a lot of popcorn. I don’t usually eat it before noon, though.

Attending TIFF since: 1996

So you visit Toronto just for TIFF?
I’m in Ottawa now, but even when I lived in New Brunswick we used to come up just for the Festival.

What do you like to see?
I think I saw all the Midnight Madness movies last year.

That’s a lot of scary movies.
You don’t have a trailer or a preconceived notion, so you don’t anticipate any shocks and scares. When I saw Saw (2004) there I was pretty freaked out by it. I think it disturbed me more than someone who knew what to expect. It was the same with Hostel (2005) a year later. But that’s the whole point of the Festival.

What is the audience like?
It’s usually pretty excitable, especially if it’s a film with a lot of buzz. One [screening] that really impressed me a couple of years ago was SPL — when it was released they called it Kill Zone. There were some martial arts fans in the audience who were demonstrating fight moves before the screening.

What kind of person is attracted to Midnight Madness?
Anybody can be a huge fan of this kind of stuff but they do have to have a certain tolerance for gore.

And if they don’t?
I’ve seen people get sick right next to me. At Ichi the Killer (2001) the guy next to me was feeling kind of nauseous from the movie. He kept turning to me pale as a ghost and saying, this is worse than Hannibal. He left before it ended.

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