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TIFF announces first batch of films while facing financial fallout from COVID-19

Last Updated Jun 24, 2020 at 4:58 pm PDT

Natalie Portman arrives on the red carpet for the film "Lucy in the Sky" at the Toronto International Film Festival in Toronto on Wednesday, September 11, 2019. The Toronto International Film Festival has announced plans for an in-person and digital version of this year's annual movie marathon, including virtual red carpets, drive-ins, and physical and digital screenings.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young
Summary

The Toronto International Film Festival has announced plans for this year's annual movie marathon

It will include both physical and digital screenings, virtual red carpets and drive-ins

The 10-day event will have a lineup of 50 new feature films, five programs of shorts and an online industry conference

TORONTO — The Toronto International Film Festival has announced plans for this year’s annual movie marathon, which will include both physical and digital screenings, virtual red carpets and drive-ins.

The festival’s 45th edition is slated to run Sept. 10-19 and has been reimagined to follow the protocols set by authorities to avoid the spread of COVID-19.

Organizers say the 10-day event will have a lineup of 50 new feature films, five programs of shorts and an online industry conference.

It will also have outdoor experiences, press conferences, interactive talks, and Q-and-As with cast and filmmakers.

TIFF didn’t provide specific details on how such events will unfold, but it’s clear this will be a much different festival than the usual extravaganza of hundreds of films and a city crawling with stars, cinephiles and celebrity watchers.

The films include Francis Lee’s “Ammonite,” starring Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan, Halle Berry’s directorial debut “Bruised,” and “Concrete Cowboy” by Ricky Staub, starring Idris Elba, Jharrel Jerome, and Lorraine Toussaint.

TIFF says the festival will also have greater representation of underrepresented voices.

Over the first five days, the full slate of films will premiere as physical, socially-distanced screenings that adhere to governmental safety guidelines.

Movie theatres in Toronto that were shut down due to the novel coronavirus, including TIFF Bell Lightbox, haven’t opened yet but are expected to when provincial and municipal health authorities give the go-ahead.

TIFF has taken a financial hit from the pandemic and announced Tuesday it had to lay off 31 full-time staff and cut salaries.

The festival did not make executives available for an interview Wednesday and issued a statement saying it hopes will serve “as a beacon of hope for Toronto, for filmmakers, and for the international film industry.”

“Our teams have had to rethink everything, and open our minds to new ideas,” said Cameron Bailey, TIFF co-head and artistic director.

TIFF has also “listened to this year’s urgent calls for greater representation of underrepresented voices,” Bailey added.

“You’ll see that this year at the festival. And we have watched as audiences have embraced cinema’s ability to transport them through screens of all sizes.”

TIFF executive director and co-head Joana Vicente said they “tapped into the original spirit of the Festival from when it began in 1976” as their “guiding light.”

TIFF is also working with Shift72 to launch a digital platform to host screenings and other events for the festival, allowing it to reach audiences beyond Toronto.

It adds the festival’s in-person version will be contingent on the province’s reopening framework, stressing its No. 1 priority is the health and well-being of filmgoers and Toronto residents.

Film festivals around the world have been grappling with the pandemic, with some cancelling their events altogether and others switching to digital versions or postponing.

TIFF has been saying since April it’s been planning some type of physical festival for September, but France’s Cannes Film Festival set for May had to be cancelled.

Cannes still announced its 2020 lineup as a badge of honour for the films, which included “Ammonite.”

Other Cannes titles bound for TIFF include Thomas Vinterberg’s Danish drama “Another Round,” starring Mads Mikkelsen; “Spring Blossom,” the debut film by director Suzanne Lindon of France; and “True Mothers” by director Naomi Kawase of Japan.

The TIFF lineup also has the Mexico/Canada co-production “Fauna” from director Nicolas Pereda, and “Good Joe Bell” by director Reinaldo Marcus Green of the U.S.

More titles will be announced over the summer.

The online industry conference will include screenings for press and industry, access to buyers and filmmakers for interviews, and networking opportunities.

The festival also said it’s planning a virtual version of its annual TIFF Tribute Awards, which launched last year and honour “outstanding contributors to the film industry.” The 2020 honourees have yet to be announced.

TIFF has also added a new component to its Media Inclusion Initiative, which is into its third year and aims to increase diversity amongst the festival’s press corps covering the festival. This year, companies and individuals can gift industry access to 250 underrepresented emerging filmmakers from around the world.

As a non-profit organization offering year-round programming, TIFF said it generates more than $200 million in annual economic activity for the city of Toronto and the province of Ontario.

The festival is also a key market to launch Canadian film content, and is considered a springboard for titles that go on to Oscar glory.

When the TIFF Bell Lightbox and other venues shut down during the pandemic, TIFF launched the Stay-at-Home Cinema program in partnership with Bell Media’s Crave streaming platform.