A Day in the Life of a TIFF Volunteer

It’s easy to pick out Toronto International Film Festival volunteers. They’re always wearing a bright, orange shirt, and you’ll usually find them scattered around various theatres in downtown Toronto. I signed up to wear one of those shirts on a whim. My expectations weren’t very high, but little did I know that I’d be in for an adventure.

Each volunteer is allowed to pick two locations to work their four required shifts. I chose Festival Street on King Street and the Winter Garden and Elgin Theatres because they were close to Ryerson.

My first shift was on Festival Street on the opening night of TIFF. The atmosphere was buzzing with excitement. People were heading to and from movie premieres as a DJ played music in the background. I was stationed at an art installation called “The Situated Cinema Project; in-camera,” and spent most of the night answering questions and taking photos of people. It wasn’t too eventful, but I was excited to see what the second night had in store for me.

My second shift was also on Festival Street. I volunteered to work at the concert stage because it looked like it would be a lively place to be for the night. It was monotonous at first. I was placed at the backstage gates with two other volunteers, a security guard, and a policeman.

I had never heard of any of the performers, so I wasn’t sure how the night would go. As I was checking people for backstage wristbands and passes, a loud crowd began forming at the front of the stage. Suddenly, a golf cart appeared backstage and a tall man dressed in a velvety, dark blue suit got off. He embraced a group of young men and was rushed into the backstage entrance. He put on an amazing show and although he sang in a language I didn’t understand, I became a new fan. His music filled the air and he hit high notes so beautifully. It turns out he was 26-year-old Arabic pop singer Mohammed Assaf, most well-known as the winner of the second season of Arab Idol. TIFF was also screening The Idol, which is a biopic about Assaf.

The next act was Toronto’s Tommy Paxton-Beesley, aka River Tiber and his band. He’s been behind some hit music this year and has been sampled by Drake on his recent mixtape If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late. Although he didn’t have the same following as Assaf, people started to gather to watch him. The other volunteers and I got to listen to the show from backstage and by the end, Paxton-Beesley had three new fans of his electronic, hip-hop sound.

As our shift came to a close, we joked about wanting to meet Paxton-Beesley and his band, but were too nervous to approach them. We were ready to head home, but one of the cops we had befriended had a different plan in mind. He disappeared behind the backstage gates and asked one of the stage managers if we could say hello. We laughed it off because we didn’t think they would be up for it.

To our surprise, River Tiber welcomed us to their trailer. They introduced themselves, shook our hands, and asked about our time volunteering during the festival. They were friendly and ended up giving us all an autograph.

Not only was I able to meet a cool band and watch an Arab pop idol’s performance, but I also made two new friends. In fact, we’re planning to see some movies together. It’s so easy to live in a big city and only meet people from your school. Volunteering is a great way to meet people outside of school who have similar experiences.

You never know what can happen when you’re wearing that orange volunteer shirt. Every venue and every shift is different. I’m ready for whatever TIFF has in store for me next year.

Featured image by Trish Thornton / CC BY