My Experience at The 2013 Toronto International Film Festival – Buying Tickets Online

I made plans early in the summer to go to this year’s Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). As the date of the festival drew closer, I planned out what films I wanted to see (mostly red-carpet premieres. How could I give up the chance to see popular actors and directors up close?) and rearranged my schedule to squeeze in as many films as I could. I’ve never been to an international film festival, and with its increasing popularity and high-profile premieres, The TIFF was the perfect first.

My plan and excitement was momentarily on halt when I went on the festival’s site to order tickets. I read various blog entries and articles about the notorious difficulty of the TIFF Virtual Waiting Room, the online store where tickets are purchased. Due to my past experiences of buying concert and Broadway tickets online, I was signed on the Virtual Waiting Room 45 minutes before the purchasing began and I prepared myself to wait at least an hour to get through. I was beyond under-prepared. I’ve never experienced a more frustrating, exhausting ticket buying experience.

The system was organized like this: You singed into your account, got through to the TIFF Virtual Waiting Room and then were put in line, where a counter counted down the seconds until you would be let through to buy tickets. It sounds simple, but it wasn’t.

The counter started at 1,200 seconds. I thought to myself, “Okay that’s 20 minutes. That isn’t too bad.”  I ended up waiting for three hours. Every time the counter counted down to zero, it jumped up to 1,100 seconds. Then 900 seconds. Then 800 seconds. It seemed like I was barely moving in the “line” that the site claimed I was in. A rush of excitement and relief followed every countdown as it got closer to zero, but my frustration came back when the counter refreshed, only to be further away from zero than I would have liked. So I ignored the “do not refresh this page or you will lose your place in line” message on my screen, and I continously refreshed the page. I also resorted to having multiple pages open on multiple devices (desktop, laptop, phone, and iPad). Each window had the same evil second countdown message on it.

The seconds of my sanity ticking away

The seconds of my sanity ticking away

I tracked the TIFF hashtag on Twitter for the duration of my three hour wait. Reading about other film buffs’ frustration and complaints let me know I wasn’t experiencing a ticket-buying fluke. It was people’s hilarious and witty banter during their waiting that kept me sane. Here are some of my favorites:

“Been sitting in purgatory @TIFF_NET virtual waiting room since 9am. Hoping to ascend to heaven soon. #TIFF13” – @pauldbwatkins

“Don’t bother seeing a horror movie at #TIFF13 this year, the ticket countdown system is a great form of psychological torture in itself,” – @afefer

“Hypnotic countdown clock filtering weaklings who succumb to sleep from those worthy of tickets. #tiffmaggedon @TIFF_NET #TIFF13” – @JessRStein

“Have been starring at the #TIFF13 waiting room screen for over an hour. Counter just reset to 800 secs. Trading despair for incoherent rage.” – @Izzbell

These tweets took away some of the frustration and annoyance, so I was able to laugh about the situation. Luckily, not long after the Twitter entertainment, one of my many tabs was able to get through to purchase tickets. I remember letting out a child-like yelp, as if I was being handed my birthday present months early.

All of the high-profile, red carpet premieres were sold out: Prisoners, Gravity, 12 Years a Slave, Dallas Buyer’s Club and Labor Day. I expected this to happen, but almost all of my meticulously planned film schedule was crossed out. So, I had to settle for looking through the films that remained and choosing tickets based on the convenience of the time and what sounds the most interesting.

I was very happy to score two red-carpet premieres: “Can a Song Save Your Life?”, staring Keira Knightley, Mark Ruffalo and Adam Levine and “The Lunchbox”, a Bollywood film directed by Ritesh Batra. The other two films were more artsy, one being a documentary, “Manakamana” and the other from first-time director Gia Coppolla, based on James Franco’s book with the same title “Palo Alto”.

Though the frustration overtook me at one point, and I was disappointed to miss out on the red-carpet premieres I originally planned for, I was very content with the films I chose. It was a good mix of red-carpet premieres and more under-the-radar films. It would give me a chance to see the different sides of TIFF: the high-profile premiere crowd, the documentary crowd and the independent crowd.

To be honest, I would have been content with any film I ended up getting tickets to, I was just excited to finally be experiencing the TIFF.


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