This year’s Toronto International Film Festival will be a dramatically different and completely “reimagined” affair. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, TIFF announced Wednesday morning that its 45th annual edition will be a blend of physical and digital elements “tailored to fit the moment,” with in-person and virtual screenings, plus virtual red carpets, press conferences and industry talks.
It will also be a significantly slimmed down event. Not only will this year’s TIFF end one day earlier than planned (Sept. 9-19, instead of concluding Sept. 20), but it will program just 50 feature films, about 79 per cent fewer movies than last year’s edition, which screened 245 full-length titles. (This year’s festival will also have five programs of short films, and an undetermined number of interactive talks, film cast reunions and Q&As.)
TIFF will hold in-person, physically distanced screenings for its full 2020 program over the first five days of the festival at three of its “premiere venues,” according to Joana Vicente, TIFF’s executive director and co-head. There will also be drive-in and unspecified “outdoor experiences,” all of which are contingent on Ontario’s reopening framework and public-health guidelines.
Screenings for members of the media and industry – a huge contingent that turns Toronto into an 11-day mini-Hollywood each September – will be held virtually, with TIFF partnering with New Zealand’s Shift72 to develop security and anti-piracy measures.
“The pandemic has hit TIFF hard, but we’ve responded by going back to our original inspiration – to bring the very best in film to the broadest possible audience,” Cameron Bailey, TIFF’s artistic director and Vicente’s fellow co-head, said in a statement. “Our teams have had to rethink everything, and open our minds to new ideas. In countless video calls over the past three months we have rebuilt our Festival for 2020 drawing on our five decades of commitment to strong curation, support for filmmakers and engagement with audiences.”
TIFF typically unveils the first leg of its lineup in mid-July, with the rest of the slate announced gradually over the summer. But this year, it announced a handful of selections right out of the gate, with premieres including Francis Lee’s 1800s-set British drama Ammonite starring Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan; Thomas Vinterberg’s Another Round starring Mads Mikkelsen, which was set to premiere at this past spring’s Cannes film festival, before it was cancelled; Ricky Staub’s coming-of-age drama Concrete Cowboys starring Idris Elba; the Canadian-Mexican drama Fauna from TIFF regular Nicolas Pereda; Reinaldo Marcus Green’s inspirational drama Good Joe Bell starring Mark Wahlberg; French filmmaker Suzanne Lindon’s directorial debut Spring Blossom; Halle Berry’s directorial debut Bruised; and Naomi Kawase’s Japanese drama True Mothers.
“TIFF has a proud history of programming award-winning films, expanding the conversation to include a multitude of voices, and in creating boundary-pushing initiatives for the industry. And this year we’ve added new innovations and ways to give back to the community,” Vicente said. “In doing so, we’re aiming to advance what a film festival is capable of delivering – for audiences and the film industry.”
To that end, organizers announced that the festival was the result of “unprecedented collaboration” with other film fests both domestic (Reel Asian, Inside Out, the Vancouver International Film Festival) and international (Venice, Telluride, New York). TIFF also revealed it was launching the “TIFF Ambassadors” initiative, in which 50 filmmakers and performers – including Ava DuVernay, Taika Waititi, Martin Scorsese, Alfonso Cuaron and Denis Villeneuve – will help TIFF “deliver a strong festival for the film industry.”
Potentially to help offset costs, the organization plans to continue its TIFF Tribute Awards, a gala honouring visiting talent that was started last year as a fundraising initiative. This year’s event will be conducted virtually, with details on honourees and access coming this summer.
Other information yet to be announced includes ticket prices, head counts for in-person screenings and the size, frequency and geographic availability of virtual screenings for members of the public. (Other festivals that have gone the online route this year, such as Toronto’s Hot Docs, have chosen to geo-block screenings to local internet users.)
TIFF’s 2020 festival plan arrives one day after the charitable organization announced it was laying off 31 employees across departments, representing 17 per cent of its full-time work force. In addition to the pandemic forcing TIFF to severely restrict its festival plans, the organization’s five-screen Lightbox cinema has been shuttered since March 14. The situation has resulted in TIFF forecasting a 50-per-cent reduction in revenue from 2019.
“As a non-profit organization, we carefully considered how to manage the loss to our operating budget, while preserving as many jobs as possible and ensuring a sustainable business model,” Vicente and Bailey said in a joint statement. “We wish there was another way.”
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