The Toronto International Film Festival is arguably the cornerstone of the fall festival season. While festivals like Telluride, Venice, and New York are important, Toronto is a key player in the awards season. The film that wins the People’s Choice Award almost always goes on to get at least a nomination for Best Picture and the year’s Best Picture winner almost always plays at TIFF. That’s not to mention the economic benefits that the festival brings to Toronto every early September. But in the midst of a pandemic when theaters aren’t even sure how they’re supposed to reopen, how will TIFF proceed?
Today, TIFF announced that they’re planning a mix of socially-distanced screenings as well as a digital component. Per the press release:
Over the first five days, TIFF’s full slate of films will premiere as physical, socially-distanced screenings. Festival-goers can also enjoy drive-ins and outdoor experiences that take them beyond the movie theatre. TIFF is working closely with the Province of Ontario, the City of Toronto, and public health officials on the safe execution of the Festival, with its number one priority being the health and well-being of both Festival filmgoers and the residents of the entire community. This presentation of TIFF’s traditional in-person ﬁlm festival will be contingent on the province’s reopening framework to ensure that festival venues and workplaces practice, meet and exceed public health guidelines.
For the first time in its history, TIFF will launch a digital platform for the Festival, affording new opportunities to connect with audiences beyond Toronto. TIFF has partnered with Shift72 to develop this industry-leading online platform. Over the 10 days, the platform will host digital screenings, as well as numerous talks and special events.
This is probably the best TIFF can do under the circumstances. Canceling the festival right-out doesn’t seem to be a great option, so perhaps they can enforce a socially-distanced screening experience (TIFF, unlike traditional theatrical distribution, has a volunteer army that could conceivably enforce mask-wearing during screenings). It remains to be seen which films will play as physically-only or if films will also have the digital platform in order to reach as wide an audience as possible during the festival.
I’ll be curious to see which films will be part of the digital platform, and how all the talent will participate (I imagine they’ll be staying put in the safety of their homes and teleconferencing in for panels and interviews). There’s still a lot here that’s unknown, but hopefully as we get closer to September, we’ll have a better idea of what TIFF 2020 looks like.