TORONTO -- They spend ages carefully planning which films to see, line up for hours to catch a glimpse of the biggest stars, and generate the buzz that elevates movies into Oscar contenders. The thousands of fans who descend on the Toronto International Film Festival every year are a dedicated bunch and have seen first-hand how the event has evolved over the past 40 years.

Angelo Iascone, for instance, first attended TIFF in 1978, when it was still called the Festival of Festivals, and has been going back ever since.

"I had just graduated, couldn't find the career I wanted, so I had time on my hands," said the 64-year-old film fan.

"It was this really incredible, exotic event. It was exciting going because even if the films themselves were mediocre, just getting places you didn't usually see portrayed in movies and seeing the talent was captivating."

The festival was smaller in its early years, with fewer films and more casual encounters with celebrities.

"You're just walking down the street and there's Nicole Kidman in her scruffy jeans searching for her lipstick in the back door of the car before she goes in. That's kind of cool," said Iascone, adding that experiencing films he'd typically not otherwise get to see was what drew him back year after year.

"It became a real treat, like having tickets to the World Series," he said. "You'd get movie tickets in batches and take out friends, so they became social events."

As the festival grew, so did the amount of films on offer and the fans flocking to it, but the expansion has brought on its own set of frustrations for some TIFF veterans.

"You'd buy the guide, you'd start planning your agenda and start buying the flex packs where you buy a bunch of tickets and then have to slot in the appropriate movies," Iascone explained. "It became a real job."

The biggest change over the last few decades, in Iascone's eyes at least, is the festival's shift to a high intensity star-studded event.

"It's become too much of a glitz. Most of the good movies, the galas, are going to be released in like three months. That's a huge difference," he said. "The exoticness has kind of played itself out."

But the glitzy red carpet premieres -- in which stars and the public watch movies together -- are part of what has hooked Tori Nixon on TIFF since she was 16.

"All the films are still open to everybody," said the 23-year-old.

"I was at the premiere of 'The King's Speech' ... it got a fantastic reaction from the audience. I remember it was also Colin Firth's birthday and everyone sang Happy Birthday. It's stuff like that that happens. It's different.

"Even though it's such a huge thing and all these celebrities are there, it still feels very audience focused."

The accessibility of stars on the red carpets keeps drawing Mac Pourmoslemi back to TIFF.

"It's only in Toronto where the stars come way, way close to the fans," said Pourmoslemi, who has been at the fest every year since 2007.

"I'm amazed that for so many years there's a star coming and literally touching you."

The 54-year-old has taken pictures with stars including Nicole Kidman, Tina Fey and Will Smith, and has autographs from Julia Roberts, Sandra Bullock and Natalie Portman, among many others.

While some stars stop for just a minute or two, Pourmoslemi has had more drawn out encounters with certain actors. He recalls meeting Robin Wright, who posed for a picture and then came back when Pourmoslemi realized the photograph hadn't been taken.

"She grabbed the camera," he recalled. "And then she said, 'Let's see if the picture is there.' I was flapping my hands in the air at that point."

As the festival has grown, Pourmoslemi notes that the crowds at the red carpet have burgeoned as well, leading to shorter star encounters. But those who stake out front-line spots hours in advance are typically rewarded, he said.

That level of celeb-spotting takes dedication, but it has also created a community of fans who get to know each other as they wait ten hours at times to have a few minutes with their favourite actors.

"It's like a reunion," Pourmoslemi said of his fellow red-carpet fans.

"One thing that we have in common is that we are there to see stars."

By the numbers: TIFF 1976

When the Toronto International Film Festival launched as the Festival of Festivals in October 1976, there were few hints at the industry behemoth it would become. Here's a look at the annual movie marathon, then and now:

  • Number of filmgoers in 1976: 35,000
  • Number of filmgoers expected in 2015: more than 500,000 (including visitors to a street fair, free festival programming, and red carpet fan zones)
  • Number of films presented in 1976: 127
  • Number of films to be presented in 2015: 399
  • Number of countries that contributed movies in 1976: 30
  • Number of countries that contributed movies in 2015: 71
  • Number of Canadian features in 1976, including co-productions: 9
  • Number of Canadian features in 2015, including co-productions: 39
  • Cost of a festival ticket in 1976: $6 for any three daytime shows and seminars
  • Cost of a single TIFF ticket in 2015: $25
  • Cost of a festival all-access pass in 1976: $50.
  • Cost of TIFF's five-film "buzz list" package in 2015: $1,500
  • Number of screening venues in 1976: 5
  • Number of screening venues to be used in 2015: 11
  • Capacity of the Ontario Place Cinesphere, which hosted the opening gala in 1976: 752
  • Capacity of Roy Thomson Hall, hosting this year's opening gala: 2,630
  • Number of festival staff in 1976: 15 paid staff, 12 consultants and a number of volunteers
  • Number of festival staff today: More than 200 full-time staff and 500 seasonal employees
  • Number of Oscar nominations for 1976 festival opener "Cousin Cousine": 3
  • Number of best picture Oscar winners that have screened at TIFF: 10 ("Chariots of Fire," "American Beauty," "Crash," "No Country for Old Men," "Slumdog Millionaire," "The Hurt Locker," "The King's Speech," "The Artist," "Argo," "12 Years a Slave.")

Memorable moments from the last 40 years

The Toronto International Film Festival turns the big 4-0 this year with yet another star-studded edition of the annual movie marathon.

It's grown up a lot since starting out as the Festival of Festivals, a fledgling affair largely regarded as a local event until Hollywood started taking note and sending its A-listers north.

Throughout the decades there were stumbles, triumphs and plenty of celebrity hijinks. Here's a look at some of TIFF's most memorable moments:

  • 1976 -- The first edition unspools in October with Canadian organizers promising visitors a wonderful Indian summer. It snows. Co-founders Bill Marshall and Henk Van der Kolk discuss the cost of renting snowblowers. Future fests move to September.
  • 1978 -- Publicity boss Helga Stephenson is punched in the shoulder as a frenzied mob tries to enter an overflowing screening for "In Praise of Older Women." A dispute with censors over the film's sexual content landed programmers in the papers and gave the fest the best publicity it could hope for. Staffers sneak an uncut version onto the screen.
  • 1983 -- The ensemble drama "The Big Chill" and its fresh cast of up-and-comers, including Glenn Close and William Hurt, enthral audiences. The surprise hit and parade of photogenic actors set the stage for future red carpet spectacles.
  • 1990 -- Now festival director, Stephenson convinces "White Hunter Black Heart" star/director Clint Eastwood to visit her dying mother in hospital. "He was her favourite actor. So after the presentation, we walked across the street from the Elgin (Theatre) and into the hospital where he was whisked to her room."
  • 1991 -- A TIFF delivery van containing that day's stash of film prints is stolen. Programmers scramble to find other flicks to screen. "Of course, the studios freaked out," recalls current festival CEO Piers Handling. The van is recovered several days later behind a deli, with all the prints accounted for.
  • 2001 -- Matthew McConaughey reportedly leaps from his seat to tend to a woman who faints at a screening of "Thirteen Conversations About One Thing." She later tells press: "I felt a man stroking my hair and kissing my forehead saying, 'It's OK, sweetheart."'
  • Days later, red carpets, press conferences and parties are cancelled when word spreads of hijacked planes slamming into New York's World Trade Center. Stranded film stars gather around televisions shocked by what they see. Canuck filmmakers including producer Robert Lantos open their homes to U.S. and European colleagues unable to immediately find a way home.
  • 2006 -- "All The King's Men" star Sean Penn lights up at a hotel press conference, violating an Ontario law that forbids smoking indoors. Penn escapes punishment, but the hotel faces more than $600 in fines. Across town, Sacha Baron Cohen shows up at the midnight premiere of "Borat" in a cart pulled by women dressed as dreary peasants. At the screening, the projector breaks down and spectator Michael Moore (director of "Bowling for Columbine") attempts to fix the problem, to no avail.
  • 2007 -- "Cassandra's Dream" star Colin Farrell makes headlines for taking a homeless man on a shopping spree for clothes and waterproof gear, and handing him a wad of cash. Meanwhile, a cranky Sean Penn returns with "Into the Wild" and berates reporters and photographers at a press conference: "You can stop taking pictures because I can't think," he snaps.
  • 2008 -- A man yells at legendary film critic Roger Ebert and smacks him on the knee at a screening for "Slumdog Millionaire." Ebert, who had been rendered mute by health ailments, explains in a column afterwards that he tapped the shoulder of the guy in front of him because his head was blocking subtitles.
  • 2009 -- Naomi Klein, Jane Fonda and Viggo Mortensen join a local protest against TIFF's decision to spotlight films from Tel Aviv, complaining it excludes Palestinian voices. Their petition is quickly denounced by a celeb-stacked counter-statement from festival friends including Israel-sympathetic stars Natalie Portman, Sacha Baron Cohen and Jerry Seinfeld.
  • 2010 -- A rumour spreads that bed bugs have infiltrated Scotiabank Theatre, a multiplex hosting many TIFF screenings. Theatre owner Cineplex Entertainment denies the claims, but an itchy panic spreads online regardless.
  • 2011 -- Keira Knightley risks rankling a Toronto audience by striding into a press conference with a Montreal Canadiens jersey slung across her shoulders. The Brit star says she did so at the bidding of her "Dangerous Method" co-star Viggo Mortensen, a big Habs fan. Their Toronto-bred director David Cronenberg deems the stunt "perverse."
  • 2015 -- TIFF marks its 40th milestone with a new program for foreign TV series and a juried competitive section for "artistically ambitious cinema." For local fans, it offers free screenings through the fall, including Alfred Hitchcock's "Vertigo" with a live symphony score Sept. 20, the last day of the fest.