My Experience Volunteering at TIFF – blogUT


The Toronto International Film Festival has just ended and I thought I’d review some movies for blogUT. But I’m not going to. I figure that since the movies are coming out in wide release soon, I’ll save you my opinion since you’ll be able to read about them on Rotten Tomatoes if you’re curious.

So today, fellow blog readers, I’ll instead give you the low-down on what it is like to be a volunteer for TIFF. You begin by signing up to volunteer. If you are chosen, you will go for orientation sessions and sign a simple contract which involves you promising not to stalk the famous or becoming star-struck when they arrive. You get one of those ubiquitous totes with little freebies, such as shaving cream, a Stella Artois glass, coffee and a volunteer shirt. On the shirt is the logo of NBC Universal, the main sponsor, so you become its walking billboard.

When the time comes, you sign up for shifts online. ID is needed at all times when picking up TIFF-related stuff. There have been horror stories in which some people steal volunteer shirts and sneak in repeatedly for free films and, mostly, celebrity-stalking.

There are various theatres you can sign up for, ranging from Roy Thompson Hall, where all the major premieres and gala screenings are held; Ryerson, famous for midnight madness films; Scotiabank, AMC and Varsity, which handle press and industry screenings or public screenings. First-timers (i.e. me) are mostly allocated the latter three theatres.

So what do you do at a theatre? You can usher, scan tickets, tear tickets, use the clicker to count the number of guests, count the actual ticket stubs, get people in the right lines, answer questions about where the bathrooms are as well as standing on your feet for long periods of time, doing nothing (there’s a lot of that). There’s the aforementioned, “make sure people are not illegally recording the movie” shift where you can stand in the theatre and watch the movie or the “stand outside and make sure people without a ticket don’t try to come in” bouncer-type job. You can also work at the box office selling tickets.

It doesn’t sound too glamorous or exciting, but once in a while a “lockdown” will occur in which “talent” will be attending a film screening. Talent refers to people that played a part in the film, like directors or actors. During a lockdown, you will stand hand in hand with other volunteers forming a barricade so that screaming fans will not attack their heroes with requests for autographs and pictures. At the Varsity, you get a variety of talent. Some are new and cocky as heck when they arrive, while others who more famous are usually a lot more humble. I got to see Matt Damon during a lockdown, and whilst waiting for them, had a discussion with a 7-year-old autograph-hunter about why these people were better than Hannah Montana.

If you sign up for four or more shifts and are not late to any of them, you get an invitation to the TIFF party after the festival, which is pretty awesome with its selection of food and booze. You are also given volunteer vouchers, redeemable for one movie ticket for each shift, or two if the shift is more than 7 hours. If you don’t use them at TIFF, you can use them at Cinematheque Ontario screenings. Usually, by the end of the festival there is a lack of volunteers, and so things pick up and get busier, as opposed to the start of the festival. If you prefer hectic shifts, it is recommended that you work in the morning as opposed to the evenings where things are actually slower. However, during long periods of inactivity, you also get to meet other cinephile volunteers, so the waiting time actually passes by quickly.

All in all, with its highs and lows, volunteering for TIFF is a pretty cool experience. Maybe you’d like to try it next year.

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