Lessons from the Toronto International Film Festival

September 19, 2016

The Toronto International Film Festival is wrapping up right now. Anyone who’s worked the festival circuit knows it’s an exhausting ten days filled with movie screenings, press junkets and plenty of glitzy galas, receptions and events. So, how do you do it all without burning out? Balance.

Like any job, the key to a successful TIFF—whether you’re a journalist, publicist, buyer or movie star—is balance. You can’t say yes to every party invitation or attend every screening; you need to pick and choose what’s most advantageous (or appealing) to you. And that’s the same in any role you take on in your career. Despite how much you try, you can’t lead every project or have your hand in everything at the office.

Sometimes, it’s better to sit back and tick off the items that are already piling up on your to-do list before adding on new tasks.

And beyond learning to balance, TIFF, which is now in its 41st year, has a lot to teach us. So here’s what we’ve learned after attending the festival.

Start small

TIFF wasn’t always a glitzy and glamorous affair. It started off as the upstart Festival of Festivals back in 1976 and has since transformed into a launching pad for high-profile movies and Academy Award winners.

Back in the mid-70s, Bill Marshall, Henk Van der Kolk, and Murray “Dusty” Cohl founded the festival in order, as the Torontoist writes, to help bolster the Canadian film industry. Although Hollywood execs and movie stars largely ignored it in its inaugural year.

As the Toronto Star reports, the Festival of Festivals screened 127 movies in 1976 and attracted about 35,000 audience members. In 2015, it showed 397 movies to more than 470,000 people.  Oh, and TIFF is now one of the most prestigious film festivals in the world.

Like Marshall, Van de Kolk and Cohl, you probably have lofty goals about where you want to end up in your career. But it’ll take time, hard work and dedication. Instead of seeking immediate gratification, give yourself benchmarks and build your dreams one step at a time.

Networking opportunities are everywhere

Along with movie screening, TIFF gives film industry insiders (and those hoping to break in) networking opportunities not only at conferences and official gatherings, but also at coffee shops, concession stands and parties. Just like in the corporate world, there are plenty of ways to make connections organically.

Many of us think of networking events as anxiety-inducing events that lead nowhere. But as TIFF shows, it doesn’t have to be like that. Marketing strategist Dorie Clark touches on this in Fast Company. “Being bored at a networking event isn’t a sign that something is serious and important; it’s a sign that something is seriously wrong,” she writes. “It’s possible to share ideas, make connections, build a following—and simultaneously have a blast.”

At TIFF, everyone has something in common; they’re into movies. But in your own life, seek out activities that you find fun, as Clark suggests. Start volunteering with a group of like-minded individuals or join an inter-office sports team. You’ll be most yourself in these situations and will be able to make meaningful connections with those around you.

Learn to take feedback

While TIFF screens some of the biggest, most award-winning movies, it also shows its fair share of flops. And movie critics, of course, write about both. Instead of shying away from the limelight, actors and filmmakers often keep creating despite a negative review or two.

It’s not that they’re stronger, but they’ve learned to take feedback. In the Harvard Review of Business, Dick Grote stresses the three essential steps everyone needs to remember when receiving constructive criticism. They are: “Listen carefully, don’t get defensive, ask for time,” he writes. Sure, these steps may sound simple, but it takes practice to actually follow them in a heated or stressful scenario.

But, as you move along in your career—like all filmmakers—you’ll undoubtedly receive your fair share of criticism; learning to take it maturely will help you move past roadblocks quickly, enabling you to grow.

Balance work with play

And if TIFF shows us anything, it’s that it is possible to work hard and play even harder—although maybe 10 days of movies and parties is a little excessive. Thankfully, TIFF comes but once a year. But if you keep its lessons in mind, you can always add some movie magic to your everyday life.

Written by: Amy Grief

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