How Toronto’s film festival will stage shows amid a global pandemic

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HOW do you set up one of the world’s largest and most complicated film events in the midst of a global pandemic? Organizers of the Toronto International Film Festival are turning to drive-ins, digital screenings and virtual red carpets for its 45th edition this September.

“Our teams have had to rethink everything, and open our minds to new ideas,” Cameron Bailey, artistic director and co-head at TIFF, said in a statement Wednesday. “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 is working closely with city and provincial governments and public health officials to ensure moviegoers’ safety as the COVID-19 outbreak lingers. A full slate of films will premiere at “socially distanced screenings” — contingent on Ontario health guidelines. For the first time in its history, the festival will launch a digital platform that will allow audiences outside Toronto to participate.

Toronto has been cautious with its coronavirus reopening plans, only entering Stage Two this week with some restaurants and bars unlocking their doors. Two dozen major employers agreed last month to keep most of their downtown staff at home at least until September.

The 10-day gathering is slated to take place starting Sept. 10 and will welcome a diverse group of “TIFF Ambassadors,” 50 filmmakers and actors including Martin Scorsese, Alfonso Cuaron, Ava DuVernay, and Nicole Kidman.


One of the most important film markets alongside Cannes and Berlin, TIFF is a cornerstone of a C$2 billion ($1.5 billion) a year film industry in Toronto, generating more than C$200 million in annual economic activity for the city and the province of Ontario, the organization said.

It has become a crucial place to screen ambitious pictures that are likely to vie for Academy Awards, and has showcased Oscar winners including Slumdog Millionaire and The King’s Speech.

TIFF temporarily closed its year-round main offices and cinemas at the TIFF Bell Lightbox in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It cut 31 full-time employees as a result of the pandemic, and said it expects a 50% slump in revenue from last year. — Bloomberg