Skip to main content
The Globe and Mail
Support Quality Journalism.
The Globe and Mail
First Access to Latest
Investment News
Collection of curated
e-books and guides
Inform your decisions via
Globe Investor Tools
per week
for first 24 weeks

Enjoy unlimited digital access
Cancel Anytime
Enjoy Unlimited Digital Access
Get full access to
Just $1.99per week for the first 24weeks
Just $1.99per week for the first 24weeks
var select={root:".js-sub-pencil",control:".js-sub-pencil-control",open:"o-sub-pencil--open",closed:"o-sub-pencil--closed"},dom={},allowExpand=!0;function pencilInit(o){var e=arguments.length>1&&void 0!==arguments[1]&&arguments[1];select.root=o,dom.root=document.querySelector(select.root),dom.root&&(dom.control=document.querySelector(select.control),dom.control.addEventListener("click",onToggleClicked),setPanelState(e),window.addEventListener("scroll",onWindowScroll),dom.root.removeAttribute("hidden"))}function isPanelOpen(){return dom.root.classList.contains(}function setPanelState(o){dom.root.classList[o?"add":"remove"](,dom.root.classList[o?"remove":"add"](select.closed),dom.control.setAttribute("aria-expanded",o)}function onToggleClicked(){var l=!isPanelOpen();setPanelState(l)}function onWindowScroll(){window.requestAnimationFrame(function() {var l=isPanelOpen(),n=0===(document.body.scrollTop||document.documentElement.scrollTop);n||l||!allowExpand?n&&l&&(allowExpand=!0,setPanelState(!1)):(allowExpand=!1,setPanelState(!0))});}pencilInit(".js-sub-pencil",!1); // via darwin-bg var slideIndex = 0; carousel(); function carousel() { var i; var x = document.getElementsByClassName("subs_valueprop"); for (i = 0; i < x.length; i++) { x[i].style.display = "none"; } slideIndex++; if (slideIndex> x.length) { slideIndex = 1; } x[slideIndex - 1].style.display = "block"; setTimeout(carousel, 2500); } //

Anthony Hopkins and Olivia Colman star in Florian Zeller's The Father, a chamber drama about a man's slide into dementia.


Plan your screen time with the weekly What to Watch newsletter. Sign up today.

The future of the Toronto International Film Festival changed on the afternoon of March 14. Just as it was preparing to host matinees of the acclaimed new drama First Cow, TIFF decided to temporarily close its five-screen Lightbox, making the multiplex the first movie theatre in Toronto to shutter due to COVID-19. Staff began working remotely immediately, hoping to untangle the knot facing every arts organization in the world: survival.

Figuring a way to produce a fall festival was especially critical, since a huge amount of TIFF’s revenue comes from the hundreds of thousands of ticket-buyers who flood its 500-plus screenings every September. With programming and attendance at the Lightbox under scrutiny outside festival time, the fate of the festival is irrevocably tied to the fate of the entire year-round institution, which itself is crucial to the development and stability of the Canadian film industry.

Story continues below advertisement

Four options were on the table: an in-person festival, which required boundless optimism; a hybrid edition of in-cinema and virtual screenings; an online-only version; and cancellation. Staff met twice a day for two to three weeks, all while watching other events label 2020 a wash: CinemaCon, SXSW, the Munich Film Festival, the Karlovy Vary Festival.

It was quickly determined that cancelling didn’t make financial sense. So TIFF kept doing what it was used to doing: viewing submissions from filmmakers hoping to get into the festival (6,038 titles in total this year, just 23 per cent fewer movies than 2019, which is remarkable given the pandemic-era uncertainty), and figuring out how to pull off a miracle.

TIFF 2020: The Globe's guide to everything you need to know about this year's festival

TIFF 2020: The Globe’s most-anticipated films list

“There’s a lot of strong interest from those in the industry who are depending on us to have a strong festival,” TIFF co-head and artistic director Cameron Bailey told The Globe in April. “We’re using the DNA of what works with the festival and applying it with the DNA of what’s been working with our digital experiences. We’re trying to find the right balance.”

Idris Elba leads the cast of Ricky Staub's Concrete Cowboy, screening at TIFF.

1996-98 AccuSoft Inc., All rights reserved/TIFF

In late June, TIFF announced what that balance would look like: physically distanced in-cinema and drive-in premieres, virtual screenings and a drastically reduced lineup of just 50 films, about 79-per-cent fewer selections than 2019′s edition (although this would grow to more than 60 titles by late summer).

“Our teams have had to rethink everything,” Bailey said at the time. “We have rebuilt our festival drawing on our five decades of commitment to strong curation, support for filmmakers, and engagement with audiences.”

That rebuild required sacrifices. The day before TIFF announced its 2020 plan, it cut 31 full-time staff positions across departments and forecast a 50-per-cent reduction in revenue. It wasn’t surprising: despite initially penciling in an April 14 reopening, TIFF’s Lightbox was still closed, and unlike other art-houses in North America, the organization had yet to adopt an online screening portal where it could earn revenue from the handful of titles being released virtually (on July 10, it launched digital TIFF Bell Lightbox).

And as Hollywood studios continued to punt their 2020 films into 2021, it became clear that the prestigious Oscars-bait that usually populates TIFF’s programming wouldn’t be available. Even Netflix, a close ally of TIFF’s, has taken the year off from the festival circuit. Instead, a large chunk of TIFF’s 2020 lineup consists of acquisition titles – movies heading to Toronto with the hope of generating sales interest from distributors.

Story continues below advertisement

“We know some films are taking advantage of the later deadlines and releasing next year,” Bailey and his fellow co-head Joana Vicente said in a joint e-mail to The Globe this week. “But critics and awards voters should definitely be looking at films at our festival like Ammonite, The Father, Nomadland and 76 Days, which are definitely Oscar-calibre.”

Halle Berry's directorial debut Bruised will show at the festival.


There have also been organizational hiccups. TIFF planned to use the Isabel Bader Theatre as one of its venues, only to lose it over University of Toronto campus requirements. As is typical, technical issues plagued early online ticket sales. And due to “security concerns” from filmmakers about online viewership, TIFF cut press accreditation by 68 per cent. Perhaps TIFF could have anticipated that members of the media might be vocal about their disappointment, yet the delayed communication around the issue allowed discontent to fester on social media.

On the other hand, a common complaint about TIFF is lack of access, but this year’s festival will be the most accessible ever, thanks to titles being available online across Canada. “This new digital platform has introduced us to a whole new realm of possibilities, so there are things that we will use in the future from this experience,” Vicente and Bailey said.

Yet, it is an open question as to how much revenue a reconfigured TIFF can take in. While other festivals have reported relative success in going online-only – Montreal’s Fantasia said it sold about 65 per cent of the number of tickets it would have in a normal year, while Toronto’s Hot Docs estimated it retained about 87 per cent of its paid audience – TIFF is built on the intangible sensation of an on-the-ground experience.

At least TIFF was on a small upswing pre-pandemic. According to its 2019 annual report, released last month, TIFF had $3.9-million in excess revenue over expenses, a jump from 2018, when it had just $65,989. And Vicente’s 2019 fundraising initiative, the TIFF Tribute Awards Gala, also paid off, raising $1.2-million (this year’s gala will act as a telethon of sorts, airing on CTV).

But then there’s the Lightbox. The multiplex has not yet reopened for regular screenings, despite provincial authorities giving cinemas the approval to do so. “Some time in the fall, TIFF will start ramping up slowly in accordance with public health officials,” Vicente and Bailey said. “We hope over the coming months that we will see positive developments in the global health pandemic.”

Story continues below advertisement

TIFF has long said that its mission statement is to transform the way people see the world through film. But now, it will be up to the world to transform TIFF.

The 45th edition of the Toronto International Film Festival runs Sept. 10-19.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow the author of this article:

Follow topics related to this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

UPDATED: Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies