As welcome as the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) is every September, it can still seem like an overwhelming 10 days (especially if you’re not particularly film savvy). But worry not: TIFF has become so much more—and so much more accessible—than a few marquee red-carpet events you have to know the director’s cousin to get a ticket to. Just remember who sent you when you inevitably become, like, actual besties with all the stars.
1. Just because it’s not via a gala doesn’t mean it’s not a film worth seeing.
If you can score general-admission tix to the following flicks, we highly recommend that you go. There’s usually some crossover between what’s premiered earlier and what shows up in Toronto, so keep your fingers crossed that Loving (a drama about the marriage between a black woman and a white man in the 1950s that led to the real-life Loving v. Virginia civil-rights case), Personal Shopper (the notorious Kristen Stewart thriller that earned boos at Cannes for its ambiguous close) and The Birth of a Nation (the runaway Sundance hit about Nat Turner’s slave rebellion) make appearances. Plus, there’s hope for a premiere of La La Land (the musical starring Emma Stone and our collective boyfriend Ryan Gosling) and Jackie (starring Natalie Portman, and about the days following JFK’s assassination), both of which would give TIFF even more Oscar clout.
2. Think of rush lines as a fun excursion with a prize (a ticket!) at the end.
While tickets tend to get snatched up in a matter of minutes, it’s still possible to snag a spot at a gala by manning the rush lines and lining up pronto. This means it’s time to be keen: Bring coffee, a snack and your most comfortable shoes and hope for the best. Rush lines open the day of the screening, so line up for yours as soon as another one’s queue is finished up. You’ll know 15 minutes before curtain time if you’re in or not.
3. Embrace the peripheral programming.
Whatever you do, make sure to attend any/every live read (possibly ever). Last year, Jason Reitman directed a live read of The Princess Bride (starring Rachel McAdams, Gael García Bernal and Donald Glover), while in 2013 he helmed Boogie Nights, featuring Jesse Eisenberg and Josh Brolin. Then, head to the Drake Hotel for their annual TIFF House Party for drinks, dancing and—if last year was any indication—live performances by any number of indie darlings.
4. Be aware of “casual” celeb-spotting opportunities.
While most TIFF events are invite-only, there are still ways to spot the famous without hanging out near the red carpet. Head to Holt Renfrew, where you can casually glance at the steady number of celebrity arrivals at the Variety Studio, and then book lunch at the Windsor Arms Hotel, which typically plays host to a slew of TIFF events. After, work the restaurant circuit and make dinner plans at Momofuku, Terroni or The Bar at the Shangri-La Hotel—go-to places for stars year-round. If you’re really balling out this fest, spring for tickets to a gala opening and you’ll have a chance of sitting next to a (gasp) real movie star.
5. Maybe just soak in the atmosphere.
But maybe you (and your wallet) need a reprieve. In that case, head down to Festival Street (specifically King, in front of the TIFF Bell Lightbox) and bask in the food, vendors and live music.