Toronto Fest CEO Talks Plans to Reclaim Awards Season Spotlight: “The Festival Thrives When Everyone's Here”

Toronto Fest CEO Talks Plans to Reclaim Awards Season Spotlight: “The Festival Thrives When Everyone’s Here”

Toronto Fest CEO Talks Plans to Reclaim Awards Season Spotlight: “The Festival Thrives When Everyone’s Here”

TIFF’s pandemic-era recovery calls for a festival that returns to its pre-COVID 19 crisis roots for its 47th edition – in-person, with Hollywood stars on red carpets and fans cheering outdoors and in theaters.Toronto Film Festival CEO Cameron Bailey learnt a valuable lesson when his event was forced to go mostly online during the first two years of the pandemic.
“The festival really thrives when everyone is here,” Bailey told The Hollywood Reporter as TIFF organizers laid out plans to reclaim the awards season spotlight with its upcoming 2022 edition in September. TIFF’s golden days as a launchpad for Hollywood to stage Oscar tastemaker screenings in its downtown Toronto theaters ground to a halt with the pandemic, as the festival chose to go online for its 2020 and 2021 editions.

That meant virtually no red carpets, buzzy theatrical audiences, and visiting industry and media as Toronto mostly relied on local cinephiles to fill socially distanced cinema and outdoor drive-in theaters. With an eye to the 2022 edition, Bailey insisted it’s time to put the band back together, as TIFF picks up where it left off before the pandemic, with an in-person festival more concentrated than ever around Bell Lightbox on King Street.

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So, expect TIFF’s 47th edition, set to kick off on Sept. 8 with opening night premieres, to look very much like its pre-pandemic predecessors. Barring a major pandemic variant outbreak, Toronto fest organizers expect to welcome in-person audiences back to TIFF Bell Lightbox, Roy Thomson Hall, the Visa Screening Room at the Princess of Wales Theatre, the Scotiabank Theatre for press and industry screenings and, for the first time, the Royal Alexandra Theatre.
Toronto’s industry conference is also set to return to the Glenn Gould Theater on Front Street from Sept. 9 to 13, and national cinema delegations will be invited as in pre-pandemic years to set up official booths at the Hyatt Regency Hotel for networking and deal making.
Elsewhere, the festival’s informal sales market will return in strength on the ground in Toronto, even as the industry’s biggest film buyers and sellers have gotten used to doing business online and know how to reach one another via cell phones and Zoom calls without having to meet in the lobby or restaurants of downtown Toronto hotels.
And, in Toronto’s biggest glitzy play to regain its awards season profile, the TIFF Tribute Awards gala will take place on Sept. 11 at the Fairmont Royal York Hotel, with still-to-be-named Hollywood stars and talent on hand to be feted.

During a press conference at Bell Lightbox, TIFF’s year-round home, Jeffrey Remedios, chairman and CEO of Universal Music Canada, and who was recently named as chair of the Toronto festival’s board, joked that the words “infectious” and “contagious” should only be uttered in the context of building buzz around in-person festival audiences for its film line-up in September.
Toronto also expects to once again close off King Street outside Bell Lightbox for the first four days of the festival this fall in a bid to get the city’s public out for live performances, outdoor screenings and sponsor/marketer booths.
Bailey, in arguing the case for a reinvigorated in-person cinema showcase and awards season launchpad in Toronto, told The Hollywood Reporter that his festival, and any major film festival, will always be defined by its physical elements. “It’s people gathering together to celebrate an artist. If you don’t have that, you don’t fully have a festival,” he argued.
And after two years with TIFF losing momentum as a public festival that dominates Toronto for 11 days each September with Hollywood stars and international cinema, Bailey and his team point to expectations that everyone will come back together to meet everyone, just like the old days, so new award season breakout movies can be inaugurated on the road to the Academy Awards.
“People ask, who will be there? It’s like going to a party. You ask who will be there before deciding if you’re going to go,” Bailey added. So, only by planning that any hybrid edition of TIFF for 2022 will be heavily weighted to on-the-ground events can TIFF organizers feel confident an international who’s who of cinema will show up.
“Once the filmmakers, the film companies, the actors, the media, the industry know that the people who are important to them will be here, they will make their decisions as well,” Bailey added about creating a herd mentality to satisfy Hollywood stars, the media that chase them down the red carpet, and the sponsors that underwrite the festival that key movie talent, buyers and sellers and top execs will book flights to Toronto this year and fill its hotels and premiere parties on King and Queen streets.

And for that to happen, TIFF needs to assure everyone it can get audiences back into downtown theaters for world, North American and other glitzy premieres. “The TIFF audience is incredibly valuable. No other festival has in the same way the public reaction to a movie helps define their lives going forward,” Bailey insisted.
Of course, Toronto isn’t abandoning the online space for its 47th edition entirely. Bailey says some films, industry events will be showcased online as a “sampling” to allow audiences that can’t attend in-person in Toronto to share in the 2022 festival experience.
And getting audiences back into traditional venues and outdoor settings for the 47th edition will be contingent on another pandemic variant not upsetting best laid plans. TIFF organizers behind the scenes insist they are preparing for all contingencies. And strict pandemic-era protocols will be followed as required.
But in the meantime, TIFF organizers are seizing on the opportunity for now made possible for this fall after Ontario lifted COVID-19 restrictions; borders have opened back up and international travel to Toronto has been made far easier.
“As TIFF celebrates the full cinema experience, we are proud and overjoyed to be welcoming our audiences back,” Bailey said.


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