'TIFF-mas': Inside the world of a celebrity selfie hound
Kristen Stewart poses for a selfie with fan Sandi Leung at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival. (Leung)
Published Thursday, September 5, 2019 5:34PM EDT
If the Toronto International Film Festival is Christmas for Sandi Leung, Scarlet Johansson is her Santa Claus. And a selfie is on her wish list.
The 26-year-old corporate accounting professional works overtime every TIFF in a different, unpaid job: celebrity selfie seeking. This year, the “Avengers” actress is her main focus, having missed her in the past.
Leung and a small group of friends, who call themselves “TIFF-ers,” chase stars around Toronto every September, sometimes clocking 12-hour days, hoping to get a coveted red carpet-side photograph. Leung even takes the Friday and Monday off for the festival, which the TIFF-ers treat like an extra holiday.
“We call it ‘TIFF-mas,’” Leung told CTVNews.ca. “It’s like 10 days of just pure happiness.”
They’re not alone in their photo pursuits. There are scores of star gawkers every TIFF for whom the films are secondary to selfies and signatures. “There’s kind of no time for movies,” said Leung. Stargazing is such a popular activity at TIFF that festival officials have implemented “Fan Zones” at two major King Street venues where first-come-first-served wristband access is required and professional cameras, ladders, chairs and selfie sticks are prohibited.
Chasing celebrity selfies can be a rollercoaster of victory and defeat. Leung might get 15 to 20 photos in one day—or none. “You probably get disappointed more than you are successful,” she said. “But people don’t really see that part of it. They don’t know how much effort you’ve put in that day just trying to get one person and you don’t get it.”
For Leung—who guesses she has amassed more than 600 celebrity selfies from various events—the most devastating defeat was missing Johansson at the premiere of the animated musical “Sing” in 2016. She waited at the red carpet for more than seven hours only for Johansson to skip her section of the barricade.
“It felt like hope was just ripped out of me,” she said. “I just stood there watching it all happen.”
This year, Johannson appears in two TIFF films, the Nazi satire “JoJo Rabbit” and acclaimed divorce drama “Marriage Story.” But both have their premieres on the evening of Sunday, Sept. 8, so Leung fears she may miss her chance again. “I kind of have to pick my battles and choose which one I’m doing,” she said. At the time of writing, Leung hadn’t decided her game plan.
For others hoping to snag a photo with a star, Leung has some tips: pack a bag with essentials like water and protein bars; always have multiple bathroom locations mapped out in your mind (“There’s times when you actually have to make the choice to go to the washroom or not move,” she said); and get in shape. Start walking or running now if you haven’t already, she said.
“You have to train for TIFF if you’re going to run.”