Allison is one of the seemingly infinite number of orange-shirted samaritans who labour through the festival without remuneration. She is a three-time TIFF volunteer, eager, diligent, sometimes quite bored.
This evening she stands at the end of an abounding queue wrapped around the Ryerson Theatre in downtown Toronto. She is a kind of beacon meant to signal to the uncertain and uninformed that they are indeed in the right place. She stands and waits. Occasionally she answers a question. “You basically just hang out here and be like an indicator,” she says. “Or you’re there to reassure people, like, ‘Don’t worry, you’re gonna get into the theatre, it’s okay.’ But mostly you’re just kind of standing around.”
This is, Allison says, a “very basic job” — only demanding for the tedium it inevitably inspires. A TIFF volunteer might be asked to stand around near the front or the back of a line. She might click a tally counter at the entrance as moviegoers stream in. She might stand inside a cinema facing the crowd to make sure nobody is engaging in a bit of surreptitious piracy. Or she might form a link in a chain of volunteers — a ritual in which they “hold hands and form a human barricade to block the crowds of people who are trying to get autographs of stars,” as Allison describes it.
There are a great many things a volunteer may be obliged to do, but mostly, theirs is the super-mundane labour that ensures the festival experience remains smooth.
Why do they do it? Vouchers awarded as compensation, partly. “You do it to get free movies,” Allison says. “Or I guess you do it to be part of TIFF in some way.”
When she first volunteered she did it because she believed it was a way “to get a foot in the door” with the festival. She thought perhaps volunteering would be the first step toward a long-lasting festival career. But no. “Volunteering at TIFF is not really being involved with TIFF,” she says. “But most people are nice, and at the end of the week, there’s a party.”