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Before we bid a virtual adieu to Zooming celebrities, chilly drive-ins and so many online screenings, The Globe and Mail’s film festival writers present the high- and low-lights from an unprecedented festival

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Best silver lining

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Anthony Hopkins and Olivia Colman star in Florian Zeller’s The Father, an ingenious, subtly hallucinatory chamber drama about a man’s slide into dementia.Courtesy of TIFF

Remember when we all used to complain that TIFF had become impossibly large? What was a busy cinephile to do but stab a pin in a program offering 250 features and pray. In this much reduced year, I’ve seen almost 20 per cent of the features on offer so maybe it’s more than just my imagination: 2020 forced programmers to narrow their choices to produce a lineup of consistent quality. Sitting calmly at home using a friendly digital platform, my experiences were all good. The standout was The Father, Florian Zeller’s remarkable drama of dementia but I also saw several powerfully topical docs, including The New Corporation and MLK/FBI, and enjoyed the only animated feature on offer, the Celtic-hued Wolfwalkers. I finished the festival with an oddball offering: The Truffle Hunters is an elegiac piece of cinema verité about aging Italians scouring the woods for precious fungi.

Kate Taylor

TIFF 2020: The Globe’s reviews of this year’s films

Best programming

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Inconvenient Indian (2020). Based on Thomas King’s award-winning 2012 study, The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America, Michelle Latimer’s documentary examines the ongoing colonization of Indigenous peoples in North America. If early colonization depended on force, in more recent decades it has focused on Indigenous history, culture, and traditions. Courtesy of TIFF

Michelle Latimer’s documentary Inconvenient Indian examines the ongoing colonization of Indigenous peoples in North America.Courtesy of TIFF

Even though TIFF featured only a fraction of the Canadian titles it usually showcases, the homegrown lineup was surprisingly strong, with nary a dud in the bunch. Akilla’s Escape, Inconvenient Indian, Beans, Shiva Baby and The New Corporation were highlights, and thanks to word-of-mouth, I now have Fauna and No Ordinary Man on my must-secure-a-way-to-watch-before-2021 list. And this doesn’t even cover the short film category, where Canadians Sofia Bohdanowicz, Igor Drljaca, Sophy Romvari and Lev Lewis stood out among an international crowd.

Barry Hertz

Weirdest no-show

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Moviegoers inside the TIFF Bell Lightbox theatre for the screening of Night of the Kings, on the opening day of the 2020 Toronto International Film Festival on Sept. 10, 2020, in Toronto.Arthur Mola/The Globe and Mail

The benefits of a mostly virtual festival? For members of the press and industry who are used to micromanaging their days to fit in the maximum number of in-cinema screenings possible, it’s the fact that we could relax, a little: All the programming was available on TIFF’s user-friendly Digital TIFF Pro platform. Well, almost all the programming. Halle Berry’s directorial debut Bruised, for instance, was one of the highest-profile titles at the festival, but was curiously unavailable for critics to view. The drama left TIFF with the biggest deal of the festival, thanks to a reported US$20-million purchase by Netflix, but I can’t tell you whether the money was worth it or not. Nor can anyone else, other than the select few who managed to score tickets for the film’s three public screenings.

Barry Hertz

Weirdest unintentional trend

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A view of the drive-in screening of American Utopia at the VISA Skyline Drive-In at CityView, on the festival opening day on Sept. 10, 2020, in Toronto.Arthur Mola/The Globe and Mail

Every year, if you squint hard enough at TIFF’s programming, a theme materializes. In this pandemic year, it appropriately turns out to be “take care of your elders, dang it." The Father, I Care a Lot, Falling and, to an extent, New Order each focus on elderly parents facing precipitous declines in their health and care, and the efforts – sometimes honourable, sometimes not – of their children to help.

Barry Hertz

Worst fear

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A TIFF usher scans a moviegoer's ticket for the screening of Night of the Kings at the TIFF Bell Lightbox.Arthur Mola/The Globe and Mail

Thanks to a poorly sourced Hollywood Reporter story on the eve of the festival, my social-media feeds were flooded with concerns that TIFF could be a COVID-19 “super-spreader” event. Once I explained to concerned parties that no international visitors were coming to the city, in-cinema screenings were capped to 50 physically distanced patrons, and the Lightbox’s mask policy was in line with Ontario theatre regulations, a more rational sense of calm settled in. Still, being extra cautious, TIFF tightened its mask policy, and (so far as I know) proceedings have gone off in a healthy, safe manner. My lone visit to the Lightbox this year for a screening of Nomadland, for instance, was as smoothly engineered as these things can be.

Barry Hertz

Best coping strategy

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Moviegoers purchase tickets at the box office inside the TIFF Bell Lightbox.Arthur Mola/The Globe and Mail

For a minute there, it felt like a critic’s dream: (almost) every TIFF title on my home screen. No lineups. Watch whenever I want. But festival films are provocateurs; I need to talk about them. So I made a pact with a friend – let’s watch the same movies and check in with each other throughout the day. Soon we had a steady text stream going. “The star of Beans is amazing.” “The Father slayed me.” We debated endings and intentions, waxed ecstatic over Nomadland and Pieces of a Woman (though not the title), and loathed a character in Falling so much that we were yelling “JUST DIE” at our screens. But I needed more. I trolled colleagues on Twitter, replied to their assessments. Because a film festival isn’t passively watching. It’s a contact sport. It’s that shiver of anticipation that runs through the crowd when Cameron (every TIFF-goer is on a first-name basis with Cameron Bailey) steps to the podium. It’s talking to a stranger on day one, and then running into her again on day three, old friends. It’s “What have you seen?” in lineups and “What have I missed?” at the foot of escalators. A festival isn’t films. It’s filmgoers. See you – see, you – next year.

Johanna Schneller

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