I stumbled onto the Toronto International Film Festival as a default in 1999. I went to South by Southwest in 1998 and thought...eehh. So I was looking for a festival to get me out of the state. I chose Telluride. Unfortunately, in my procrastination, it was sold out and booked up. Toronto was the next festival happening so I left.
1999 was a mixed bag. While the thrill of being out of the States (although now Toronto feels like an extension of home) was there, my movie selection left a lot to be desired. I got the 30 film pass and basically chose films that had American actors that I knew.
2000 was all about "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon." I HAD to see that film, knew it would be playing at the Festival. So I bought both 6 & 9 Gala passes and a 10 coupon book. At least here, most of my movies were already chosen for me. But foreign films still meant subtitles, and unless there were martial arts, count me out. I also thought I had friends going with me, but they canceled at the last minute. Downer, came back early.
2001 - skipped. Events turned out to be much bigger than the festival that year.
2002 - 2005. I know and love foreign films. I actually know foreign directors/actors to look for. Thus my selections have steadily improved each year to where now, there is usually only one/two films that I hate myself for seeing. I've gotten Festival Passes (50) the last four years. Last year was the first year I was able to get to 40 films. You have to be disciplined to do so. When the alarm clock rings, get up. I did go to all of the midnight madness shows and was left wanting on half of them. This year I plan to scout the midnights the same as I do the other films. If you avoid a midnight, then a 9 a.m. the next day is doable. See a midnight and you're probably looking at Noon for a first show.