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Best silver lining
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
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
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
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
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
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