TIFF: Hurricane Irma's Path of Destruction Disrupts the Fest

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Hurricane Irma has already ravaged the Caribbean and is expected to hit Florida on Sunday morning.

Canceled events and uncertain travel are affecting attendees en route from Florida and members of a Caribbean contingent already in Toronto. Says one: "It's hard to be here and not at home."

Though the eye of Hurricane Irma is some 1,300 miles away, the superstorm has already begun to disrupt the Toronto International Film Festival.

Contingents from the Miami Beach and Miami-Dade County film commissions have canceled their trips to the fest, as has actor Christopher Rivera, who was traveling from the Sunshine State to Toronto for Sunday’s premiere of Sean Baker’s The Florida Project. Andrew Bleechington, who stars in Life and Nothing More, also was unable to travel from Florida to Toronto for the film's world premiere, while the pic's director Antonio Méndez Esparza and actress Regina Williams were delayed.

Irma, which is the strongest Atlantic hurricane ever recorded and already has ravaged multiple islands in the Caribbean, is expected to make a direct hit on Florida sometime Sunday morning.

Like most film festival directors, Miami Film Festival’s Jaie Laplante makes the trek to Toronto to scope out what titles look promising for his lineup. He managed to get out of Florida, but had major reservations about the trip.

“It was a difficult decision whether to go through with my plans or not, but I was able to prepare our offices and my house and family to the extent that I know all the protections we have in place for events like this are activated and secure,” he told The Hollywood Reporter.

But due to Hurricane Irma, Laplante has since canceled a TIFF party set for Saturday at Soho House to celebrate films in the event’s lineup that were filmed in Florida, including The Leisure Seeker and Florida Project (Baker had planned to attend.)

“Irma is predicted to make a direct hit on Miami during the exact hours of when our party would be taking place,” added Laplante.

TIFF also hosts a sizable contingent of Caribbean filmmakers and industryites, thanks to its Caribbean Tales incubator lab. Those already on the ground in Toronto relayed their fears for their friends and families back home.

Kareem Mortimer, who traveled from his native Bahamas, is keeping one eye firmly on the news back home as he pitches new projects in Toronto.

“My family is getting prepared,” he said Thursday morning. “The next couple of hours will be crucial,” (Irma is expected to impact the Bahamas throughout the weekend.) “I’m attached to my phone and the internet. It’s difficult to be here and not at home,” he added.

Jamaica-based filmmaker Rick Elgood also worried about the rest of the Jamaican delegation that were en route to TIFF, as they were due to fly out Thursday. “I have not been able to get information from anyone on [their status],” said Elgood, who has survived three hurricanes that hit the island.

Denise Herrera Jackson, a board member of the Caribbean Tales Festival, says everyone is keenly aware of Irma and its path of destruction. But, being dedicated filmmakers, “the hurricane could have a story for them down the road,” he said.

Barbados-based writer-director Shakirah Bourne (Two Smart) was reluctant to talk movie scripts while Irma raged. But she admitted that her creativity was stirred by Hurricane Irma coverage.

“It’s awful, but when I saw the devastation, I love apocalypse movies and I was hoping to do something like that,” said Bourne. “You don’t have to go very far, you don’t have to use CGI. Maybe I could write something and donate the profits to countries affected.”

This story first appeared in The Hollywood Reporter's Sept. 9 daily issue at the Toronto International Film Festival.