09/06/2012 12:06 EDT | Updated 11/06/2012 05:12 EST

Welcome to TIFF, I'll Be Your Backstage Pass

A woman waits behind a barricade prior to the gala for the film "Starbuck" during the Toronto International Film Festival in Toronto Wednesday, Sept. 14, 2011. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Darren Calabrese)

September 5 -- Countdown to TIFF: 1 Day

Only one day left until the madness begins. Until 300+ filmmakers begin arriving in Toronto. Until the international film industry descends upon this city and takes it over for 11 days. Until sleeping more than two hours a night becomes a distant memory. Until the 37th Toronto International Film Festival begins.

But for many of us, the madness has already begun. The amazing staff that make this festival happen every year spend months tirelessly poring over films, editing programme notes, juggling schedules and reaching out to the Industry to make TIFF the most exciting, best organized and friendliest film festival in the world.

This will be my 11th year working at TIFF. As a teenager in love with film, I started working at TIFF as an assistant in the Guest Relations Office and I was hooked. From random encounters with stars (John Cusack joined us for beers in the lobby after a long day's work) to standing in the rush line for a Midnight Madness screening, working at TIFF that first year was a revelation. And working in the Guest Relations Office every summer throughout my undergrad years, I eagerly learned all I could about the inner workings of this organization and unexpectedly gained a new family along the way.

When I left Toronto to pursue a PhD in the U.K., I thought my time at TIFF had come to an end. In the U.K., my love of film only deepened. While studying African history at the University of Cambridge, I ran an African Film Festival and traveled across Africa looking for new talents. But part of me missed the hustle and excitement of TIFF. And so in 2006, when newly appointed co-Director Cameron Bailey offered me the chance to come back and support his programme, it felt like being called home.

Now I hold the position of Programming Associate, which can cover all manner of sins, but in this case it is quite fitting. As programming associates, we "bring together... in any of various intangible ways"; we work with our amazing and inspiring programmers reaching out to filmmakers, providing support (emotional as well as administrative), keeping them hydrated and running.

TIFF12 will be my fifth season working with our now Artistic Director Cameron Bailey in this capacity. Working with Cameron means my position takes a slightly different edge: more films than any other programmer, more high-profile events and less time to do it all. But this also means I wind up getting to take on some crazy cool things, both behind the scenes and on-stage: hosting dinners for his directors, taking on intros and Q&As for his films, party-hopping late into the night with his guests, even hosting our super secret Karaoke night (shhh).

Last year, we were thrilled to welcome new programming energy to our team: the incomparable Rasha Salti, Programmer for the Middle East and Africa. Not willing to let go of my first love in African cinema, we decided I would work with Rasha on top of continuing to work with Cameron. This year saw yet another addition to my docket: our spectacular City to City programme, focusing on the emergence of a new cinematic scene in Mumbai. This year, I'm doing a little bit of everything, and I'll be sharing glimpses of this crazy ride right here.

So here's how it will work: every day, I will give you a glimpse inside the daily madness of the festival. The day before the Festival officially began, I received calls from nervous filmmakers who've just arrived in the city, worked with our formidable tech team to make sure everything will run smoothly and email chatted with one of my idols (more on that in the days to come).

The day before the festival always sneaks up on you, the office buzzing with equal measures anticipation and anxiety. Now it's time to take care of all those last minute details: fighting with the printer to format all of my intro remarks, stuffing guest mailboxes with dinner invitations, stopping in at the Cinematheque Programmers Cocktail for a quick aperitif and trying to squeeze in a quick pedicure, a pre-fest must.

So stayed tuned: from Slavoj Zizek to Snoop Lion, from auteur cinema to Mumbai's New Wave, this year's Festival is going to be big. Check in here to take a peek through the looking-glass, and maybe I'll even let you in on a few of our secrets.

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