Getty Images/Kevin Winter Film critic Roger Ebert arrives at the 25th Film Independent's Spirit Awards held at Nokia Event Deck at L.A. Live on March 5, 2010 in Los Angeles, California.

Roger Ebert, the Chicago–based world’s most famous film critic, has spent a considerable amount of time in Toronto.

“I’ve spent six months there,” he wrote in a recent email exchange, “one festival at a time.”

The festival that brings him to Hogtown is the Toronto International Film Festival, which kicked off its 37th year today.

In his review of Melancholia he waxed rhapsodic about the importance of TIFF.

“Toronto announces the end of a summer of often disappointing and overinflated ‘blockbusters,’ and an autumn that feels like a springtime of the cinema.” He wrote from experience. The Pulitzer Prize winner has been attending TIFF since its inception.

In fact, he’s so familiar with TIFF he even has a nickname for the vertigo-inducing staircase at one of their premier theatres.

The “escalator of terror” he calls it.

Length of escalators aside, he is succinct when I ask about the changes he’s noticed over the years.

“It’s grown bigger and better,” he wrote.

As for any improvements he’d like to see made? “Most of the changes I’ve wished for have, in fact, been made.”

He’s more forthcoming when I ask how he would explain the importance of film festivals to someone who has never attended one.

“It’s a way to expose yourself to the best of new world filmmaking, three to four films a day, and (equally valuable) join in the conversations before and after them and while in line. You just can’t get up to speed with a couple of multiplex pictures a month.”

As for advice to a TIFF newbie?

“Avoid the movies that will be opening between now and Christmas, and seek out those that sound intriguing.”

He’s had many intriguing festival moments over the years, so I asked him to describe his most vivid TIFF memory.

“I’ve never heard a more ecstatic audience reaction than at the premiere for Jason Rietman’s Juno,” he wrote. “That’s not to say it was the best film I’ve ever seen at Toronto, although I loved it — but that I have an audience reaction to judge other reactions against.”

There are 372 features at this year’s festival, so it seemed obvious to inquire about what he was most excited to see and why.

“Oh, no. I won’t play,” he scolded. “I never, ever make lists, and especially of films I haven’t seen.”

TIFF book signing

Roger Ebert will be in Toronto for the festival and he’ll also be doing a couple of book signings for the paperback edition of his memoir, LIFE ITSELF, which comes out Sept 4. Monday, September 10 at 7 p.m. at TIFF Shop at the TIFF Bell Lightbox, Reitman Square, 350 King Street W. Wednesday, September 12 at 4 p.m. at Theatre Books, 101 Spadina Ave.

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