How to Attend the Calgary International Film Festival Like a Pro

From finding your movie match to what to do about sold out shows, use these tips to make the most of the annual festival.

An entranced audience soaks up the screen at Calgary Film 2017. Photograph Supplied by Calgary Film.

The Calgary International Film Festival (CIFF) hosts its 20th festival this year from September 18 to 29. Over the course of 12 days, the annual festival puts a spotlight on movies from around the world while also offering a platform for Canadian and Alberta cinema to shine. Attendees can see films from just about every genre as they run between the Globe Cinema, Cineplex Eau Claire and the festival’s other venues. If you haven’t checked out this local institution yet — or just need some info on how to dig deeper — read on to find out everything you need to know to attend CIFF like a pro.


Find Your Movie Match

With nearly 200 short and feature-length films from around the world showing at CIFF, it may seem daunting to find the films that fit your fancy. There are a few key ways to make things easier:

  • Improved for this year, the festival’s home page lists all films in alphabetical order and offers a helpful filtering system. Search by likes, dislikes, genre, content (i.e. explicit or violent), film series and general interest descriptors like “foodie” and “music.”
  • You can also browse films chronologically here. Fans of analog may miss the days when gargantuan paper program guides were distributed at the festival, but they can simply print out a mega-list of movies with shortened descriptions at that same link.
  • Just ask! The festival’s main box office has helpful volunteers and staff, and fellow movie-goers are never shy to share what they’ve seen. Most films at the festival screen twice, meaning word of mouth is worth its weight in gold during the festival’s run.


How to Buy

Ranked in order of convenience and efficiency, these are your options for making purchases of passes and tickets: online, at the festival box office, at venue box offices and by phone. Make sure to check the various hours for in-person and phone sales to avoid wasting time.

  • Online: CIFF added a new, custom-made online box office system last year. It’s speedy, well-organized and allows you to manage individual ticket purchases, ticket bundle redemption and pass holder reservations with ease.
  • Festival box office: Located on the main level of Eau Claire Market, this sales point has more cashiers than front-of-line venue box offices and is dedicated solely to ticketing.
  • Venue box offices: These are primarily intended for walk-up sales on the day of a show. Cashiers and staff have to manage a lot of in-and-out-traffic but are always willing to help you get the tickets you need.
  • By phone at 587-393-3730: Use this option for purchases if you’re having trouble using the website, have a ticket-related question you can’t find an answer to or just prefer to have assistance from the comfort of your own phone.

Sold Out Shows

So you waited to get tickets to see a headliner and now there are none left. Don’t let it get you down, there are a few ways to get around this.

  • Even if all tickets for a screening have been sold, a rush line is formed one hour prior to showtime. A rush line is a bit like the film equivalent of flying standby. If for some reason CIFF determines there will be available seating, rush line ticket sales will begin 15 minutes prior to the screening’s start time. As well, latecomers may be admitted at the festival’s discretion.
  • The majority of films at the festival show twice. Check that schedule or ask staff or volunteers if you have a second chance.
  • Take a chance on something else! Main venues Cineplex Eau Claire and the Globe Cinema typically have at least one other film beginning within half an hour of your desired screening.


Bringing the Family

Films generally hit the festival circuit before being rated for commercial release. Indeed, film festivals in Alberta are exempt from having their offerings rated in advance. That means determining what’s appropriate for your group takes just a little extra research.

  • Tags on the lineup page are once again handy here. Films marked by “horror,” “violent,” or “explicit content” tags may not be ideal for a little one.
  • One series to check out if you’re hoping to bring along the teens is Generation Next. These films were chosen as part of a collaboration between CIFF, teenagers and a teacher advisory committee to put a spotlight on youth-focused film. This series actually has been rated (with the exception of one film) and spans from “G” to “14A.”
  • In the end, what’s appropriate for your family is a private decision to make. Read synopses and dig around for reviews if you need extra guidance. If you do decide to make a family outing, check out ticket bundles for a cost-effective way to attend.

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