Al­li­son

National Post (Latest Edition) - - SATURDAY FEATURE - Week­end Post

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.”

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