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Toronto's Film Scene
Toronto loves the movies, and the feeling is mutual. So many films are shot here (the city has posed as everywhere from Paris to Vietnam) that Toronto has earned the nickname "Hollywood North." The highlight of the cinematic year is the world-renowned Toronto International Film Festival.
North America's third-largest film production center after L.A. and New York, Toronto keeps cameras rolling with its excellent local crews and production facilities and plenty of filmmaker tax credits. It helps, too, that Toronto's chameleonic streets easily impersonate other cities and time periods. Credits include: Yonge Street as Harlem (The Incredible Hulk), the Distillery District as Prohibition-era Chicago (Chicago), Casa Loma as the school for young mutants in X-Men, and the U of T campus as Harvard (Good Will Hunting). Spotting Toronto "tells" in films is fun, but locals get even more jazzed when the city represents itself for a change, as in 2010's Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.
It's no secret that Toronto competes with Vancouver for U.S. film dollars. Vancouver is closer to L.A. and has impressive mountain and coastal landscapes. But Toronto's cellophane star is glowing brighter thanks to the new 250,000-square-foot Pinewood Studios downtown, which is attracting big-budget blockbusters to the city for the first time.
Where to Watch
Toronto's movie scene is vast, varied, and can be overwhelming. Here are a few of our picks depending on your poison:
Oddball series and theme nights: Revue
Documentaries: Bloor Cinema
Pure cinephelia: TIFF Bell Lightbox
IMAX: Scotiabank, AMC Yonge & Dundas Square, Ontario Place
3-D: Scotiabank, TIFF Bell Lightbox, Varsity and Varsity VIP, AMC Yonge-Dundas Square
Summer films al fresco: Harbourfront Centre (235 Queens Quay W; Polson Pier Drive-In (176 Cherry St., Harbourfront); TIFF in the Park (King and Simcoe sts., next to Roy Thompson Hall).
Toronto International Film Festival. Widely considered the most important film festival in the world after Cannes, TIFF is open to the public with even star-studded galas accessible to the average joe. More than 300 of the latest works of great international directors and lesser-known independent-film directors from around the world are shown. Movies premiered at TIFF have gone on to win Academy Awards and launch the careers of emerging actors and directors. In recent years, TIFF audiences have been among the first in the world to see The King's Speech, Slumdog Millionnaire, and Juno, to mention just a few. The red carpet is rolled out, and paparazzi get ready for big-budget, star-studded premieres ("galas"), for which actors and directors may be on hand afterward for Q&As. Along with the serious documentaries, foreign films, and Oscar contenders, TIFF has fun with its Midnight Madness program, screening campy horror films, comedies, and action movies into the wee hours. TIFF Bell Lightbox, 350 King St. West, at John St., Harbourfront, Toronto, ON, M5V 3X5. 416/968–3456 or 877/968–3456. www.tiff.net.
Doing the Festival
When: The 10-day festival begins in early September
Where: Screenings are at movie theaters and concert halls throughout the city, as are ticket booths, but the festival HQ is the TIFF Bell Lightbox building, at 363 King St. W (at Peter St.).
Tickets: If you plan to see 10 or more films, consider a festival pass or package. These go on sale in July; the somewhat complicated lottery process is fully explained on the TIFF Web site. Individual tickets go on sale four days before screenings. You may not get your first choice, but discovering something new is part of the fun. (No, really!) Ticket prices are about C$20 per film. Popular films sell out early, but tickets are almost always available for something, even at the last minute, and even sold-out shows have a rush line.
Book a hotel as early as possible: some hotels near the theaters are booked by May.
Read ticket-buying instructions carefully; fixing something that's gone awry is difficult.
Arrive 30 minutes to an hour before the film; at least two hours early for rush lines.
Most films have two or three screenings, so don't despair if you miss the first one.
Visa is the official TIFF sponsor, and Visa holders get numerous perks—including being the only credit card accepted for purchases.
Among the scores of Toronto film festivals (full list at wx.toronto.ca/festevents.nsf) these are our faves.
Hot Docs. This is North America's largest documentary film festival. Toronto, ON. www.hotdocs.ca. late April.
TIFF Kids International Film Festival. TIFF Kids features new and classic films aimed at the 2-to-13-year-old crowd. Toronto, ON. www.tiff.net. April.
Toronto After Dark. This festival is dedicated to horror, sci-fi, and thriller films. Toronto, ON. www.torontoafterdark.com. late October.
The city's most hyped annual event is September's Toronto International Film Festival.
Inside Out Toronto LGBT Film Festival. Held at the TIFF Lightbox, this major event features films made by and about lesbian, gay, bi, and transgender people. Toronto, ON. www.insideout.ca/torontofestival. late May.
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