Toronto Film Festival Weighing Onsite, Digital Options for September Event

TIFF sign - Getty - H 2020
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"There is still uncertainty about what 'people coming together again' will look like come September," fest organizers said Thursday.

The 2020 Toronto Film Festival, set to run Sept. 10-20 in Toronto, is weighing options to go online and remain, where possible, with a physical event amid planning concerns surrounding the new coronavirus outbreak.

Festival co-heads Joana Vicente and Cameron Bailey on Thursday said they are moving ahead with planning for the traditional September event, but are considering moving some events online, if necessary, to comply with safety precautions during the coronavirus pandemic.

"We recognize that in planning for the festival now, there is still uncertainty about what 'people coming together again' will look like come September. This is why we are looking at both onsite and digital innovations that will provide options that will deliver for our audiences, support filmmakers and our partners, and bolster the industry," Vicente and Bailey said in a joint statement.

As TIFF programmers plan for the September event, the festival says they have been collaborating with rival festivals that were earlier cancelled or delayed. "Our goal is to offer a united platform to share programming," Vicente said in a YouTube video.

"We have to refocus our energy while navigating the challenges presented by the current global crisis," Bailey added, as festival employees have begun to work remotely at home and the festival looks for new ways to stream movies and operate in an evolving digital world.

Self-isolating Canadians have already been invited to virtual chats with Hollywood stars led by Bailey, followed by movie screenings on the Crave streaming service. The Stay-at-Home Cinema offers the virtual Q&As via Instagram Live @tiff_net, starting with Homeland star Mandy Patinkin, followed a streaming of Rob Reiner's 1987 film The Princess Bride, starring Patinkin as Inigo Montoya, on Crave.

Bailey is set to host at least the first three virtual chats with Hollywood stars and movie screenings, including Sarah Polley being interviewed before streaming Away From Her on Crave, and Catherine O'Hara and production designer Bo Welch on April 3 talking about their work on Beetlejuice, which will also stream.

Crave is also debuting this Friday TIFF's 2019 opening night film, Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and The Band, a feature documentary about the legendary musician and founding member of the influential group that Crave-parent Bell Media helped finance.

The film, executive produced by Martin Scorsese, Brian Grazer and Ron Howard and directed by Daniel Roher, had a limited theatrical release in Canada in Sept. 2019. And Magnolia stateside launched a platform release on Feb. 21 that expanded to around 150 screens before the coronavirus pandemic in mid-March closed down cinemas nationwide.

A TIFF industry conference has been set to run Sept. 11-15. Toronto and Ontario health officials earlier warned against mass gatherings in the province amid the virus outbreak.

Festival organizers have been hoping that the health crisis might have been contained in time for the annual September event, considered a traditional launch pad for Hollywood's awards season.

TIFF's five movie screens at its Bell Lightbox headquarters have been shuttered during the COVID-19 crisis, reducing operating revenues for the festival.

Toronto's disrupted plans for its September event come as a number of events and large gatherings have been postponed or halted due to concerns about the spread of the disease as officials seek to encourage social distancing.

Cannes, Tribeca, SXSW and other main dates on the festival circuit were earlier canceled or postponed.

A full statement from TIFF on its September plans follows:

These past few weeks have been unlike anything we’ve all experienced before. To help limit the spread of COVID-19, we made the necessary decision to close our Toronto cinemas and offices at TIFF Bell Lightbox. During these times, we are acutely aware of the challenges of staying connected as creators, audiences, friends, and family. TIFF is an organization that believes in bringing together communities by creating transformational filmgoing experiences.

We remain committed to creating connections and sharing films with you, now and into the future. We wanted to provide an update from our co-heads, Executive Director Joana Vicente and Artistic Director Cameron Bailey, about extending our closure until July 1 and what we’re doing to refocus our efforts amidst this global crisis, including how we’re planning for September’s Film Festival.

TIFF will continue to follow the updates on COVID-19 closely, while adhering to the guidelines put forward by our governments, to ensure the measures we take will help protect our staff and audience. The decision to keep our doors closed and to temporarily halt our year-round programming will help mitigate the spread of the disease. Of course, we recognize that in planning for the Festival now, there is still uncertainty about what “people coming together again” will look like come September.

This is why we are looking at both onsite and digital innovations that will provide options that will deliver for our audiences, support filmmakers and our partners, and bolster the industry. We encourage you to check in on your friends and family. Share your favourite films with them to watch at home. Our recently launched Stay-At-Home Cinema, streaming on Crave, provides a way for communal filmgoing to still thrive. Let’s use great art to confront our fears, soothe our anxieties, and connect with one another. If you hold tickets for an impacted event, we will be in touch with you directly about your options.

We are sincerely grateful for our ever-supportive audiences and the generosity of everyone who has donated the cost of their tickets back to TIFF. For those who are in the position to help, we deeply appreciate your donations — thank you. We are determined to find new ways to deliver programming to you at home until we can see you back at Lightbox again. We’ve heard from so many people whose lives and careers have been disrupted during this change in all of our lives — please know that our thoughts are with you. We’ve seen our staff and community rally together in ways we could never have imagined. In times like these, Community matters.

Art matters. Film matters. Community, Art and Film have the ability to give us hope and to highlight the similarities of our global experience as human beings. Know that we are all in this together, and only together can we bring about positive change. Thank you for your tireless work, strength, and love. Our doors will open again, and we look forward to welcoming you back. Until then, stay safe, and take care.

Thank you, Joana Vicente, Executive Director & Co-Head and Cameron Bailey, Artistic Director & Co-Head TIFF