Toronto Film Fest Offers Digital Movie Rentals Amid Pandemic

Toronto International Film Festival - Getty - H 2020
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TIFF is sending its theatrical releases straight to homes as the coronavirus outbreak keeps its five Bell Lightbox screens in Toronto shut down.

The Toronto International Film Festival has begun offering digital rentals of new movie releases that would have played on screens at its Bell Lightbox headquarters that have been shuttered because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Digital TIFF Bell Lightbox initiative will offer new releases starting at CAN$5.99 ($4.50) per title until Aug. 14, ahead of a largely virtual TIFF in early September. After the festival, digital movie rentals will resume in October.

Classic indie movie titles and exclusive talks will also be available for rental from TIFF. The digital release platform is another sign that the Toronto fest is headed online, after the announcement of a first-time digital platform in September, to comply with safety precautions during the COVID-19 pandemic.

During its Sept. 10-19 run this year, TIFF plans to screen around 50 film titles over a five-day period in physical theaters, pending a green light from city and provincial health and safety authorities. But Toronto's plans mainly involve virtual red carpets, press conferences and industry events.

The digital rental initiative was prompted by the forced shutdown in mid-March of Bell Lightbox, TIFF's year-round five-screen home. More recently, the financial repercussions of the Bell Lightbox closure led the festival to lay off 31 full-time employees.

Toronto's disrupted plans for its September event come as a number of events and large gatherings have been postponed or halted because of concerns about the spread of the disease and the need for social distancing. Cannes, Tribeca, SXSW and other main dates on the festival circuit already have been canceled or postponed.