Although it may seem like every vacation pretty beach town has its own film festival these days, read up on everything you need to know about the Toronto International Film Festival and discover why it remains the “Festival of Festivals,” unique in Hollywood. Every September, right after Labor Day, filmmakers, movie stars, critics, students and just ordinary folk can sample every type of new film from independent to foreign to blockbuster. More importantly, the Oscar season begins, as the heavy contenders get their first rumbles from the scene.

Unlike the more glamorous Cannes in France, or the hipper-than-thou Sundance Film Festival, the Toronto International Film Festival, perhaps expressing its basic Canadian niceness, is literally open to everyone. Over the years, since its founding in 1976, the TIFF has evolved into a great indicator of Oscar worthiness. Studios usually release their serious films in the Fall, thus the September timing is a perfect launch date for starting the buzz. In recent years, surprise Academy Award winners like “Slumdog Millionaire” and “The King’s Speech” first accepted the TIFF Audience Award and the attention of moviegoers.

Aside from starting off the award season, the Toronto International Film Festival is a gathering place for distributors, large and small, to take meetings with filmmakers, from promising to foreign. The Festival started as a gathering of the best films from other festivals for Canada’s movie lovers. By retaining it’s open-armed approach to every category of film, Toronto International Film Festival  has grown to include two weeks of offerings of over 300 films, with attendance of half a million people.

The unpretentious combination of horror, documentary, strange, small and heartfelt films allows small gems like “Juno,” “Little Miss Sunshine” or Mickey Rourke’s career reviving “The Wrestler” to demonstrate a wide appeal to critics, press and most importantly, movie goers who actually pay for their tickets. Therein lies the key to the Toronto International Film Festival’s success, the audience is king, or, at least the Audience Award is the highest prize.

The Toronto International Film Festival has also brought early attention to directors such as Michael Moore (“Roger and Me,” 1989), Baz Luhrman (“Strictly Ballroom,” 1992), Jason Reitman (“Juno,” 2007), and giving international attention to directors such as John Woo, Werner Herzog, and Wim Wenders.

Movies may have gotten their start in New York, Hollywood turned it into a business, but leave it to the Canadians to figure out how best to get them an audience and some gold. May the Toronto International Film Festival remain true to its tagline, “For the love of film.”

-Marina Chavez