The Toronto International Film Festival kicked off on Thursday with a very different format. Festival participants agree that the various coronavirus adaptations made by the festival are significant, but it is still unclear how the virtual event will affect those who rely on it, largely for networking opportunities and to jumpstart their careers.
TIFF is the second in a series of “big five” film festivals that have begun to gradually resume public events due to the COVID-19 epidemic. It took a different approach from the Venice Film Festival when it opened last week.
That festival, the oldest in the world, required attendees to wear masks, check their temperatures and distance themselves physically – but it was done in person. TFF, on the other hand, has pushed most of their shows online. The rest are drive-in or outdoor shows, and some are performed in select, physically remote theaters.
The organizers chose the number of titles from over 330 in 2019 to about 50 this year and did not schedule red carpets or personal discussions. This removes the excitement of star views for those who go to the festival and means that the filmmakers are less likely to be directly involved with the festival, and to each other.
“Dream to have your film premiere at one of the biggest festivals in the world and really immerse yourself in that experience,” said experience director Tracy Deer.
Her autobiographical film Beans – Inspired by her experiences of living in Kahnawake during the Oka Crisis at the age of 12 – Prepared a world premiere show at TFF on Saturday.
It will also be her film debut, which she will look at somewhat sweeter.
“It’s a brand new, untested format,” Deer said. “You want to experience being a filmmaker with a film at the festival. So it’s definitely disappointing.”
Rainbow Dickerson, one BeanThe actors, who starred, echoed those concerns. Dickerson, who was selected as one of the festival’s four “Rising Stars”, described how they filmed the film and how it has been for over a year now.
The festival was an opportunity for her and her coasters to visit once again, to come together as a creative group and “to celebrate and embrace and feel the energy to be together again”.
Instead, she filmed a section of her Rising Stars panel remotely in Los Angeles, where she also watches the festival and participates in online resources. He said he was thankful and excited for the festival to continue digitally instead of canceling, but said some parts were missing.
“We miss red carpets together, photo opportunities and being in the same room with people,” Dickerson said. “It’s a different force than seeing someone on the box on the screen.”
Moving the festival from the big screen to the computer screen does more harm than good to the audience. Drawing filmmakers and audiences from around the world to a single event creates excitement around top performers and spreads verbal recommendations that help determine what the industry can expect bigger.
“Toronto has a history of making flavors,” said Carlos Aguilar, a freelance film critic for the LA Times, Variety and other outlets. “Often they get the People’s Choice Award for their lucky films or they get a lot of sensation, and then we’ve talk about them months later – sometimes at the Oscars.”
That noise is created organically, momentarily picked up by groups in the shared space and recommendations are often exchanged between strangers. That process now mostly goes to social media, “strange waters that have never been tested before,” Aguilar said.
All of these changes will fundamentally change how the festival works, said David Poland, editor of the entertainment news site Movie City.
He said the drastically reduced number of films in TIFF would completely eliminate the festival as a trendsetter.
But TFF is not alone. Earlier this year, the Academy Awards postponed their celebration due to the epidemic, taking place in April instead of February. This would make the awards season two months longer, making it much earlier than the start of September, Poland said.
“Starting in Toronto and getting to the end is not so easy and it’s expensive,” Poland said. “So basically, the fall festivities are not participating in this year’s awards season.”
However, the outlook is not all that bad. Madeleine Sims-less, co-director, co-writer and star Violation, Noted that the Scale Down Festival pays more attention to short, independent films – both Dickerson and Deer are highlighted.
Also, they found that the opportunity to participate in the festival was a very big opportunity regardless of the format.
“It’s one of the most prestigious film festivals in the world and it’s a huge spotlight,” Sims-Fuer said. “TFF has it … it’s so big. Yeah, it’s really exciting.”