TIFF pulls back the curtain on its 2020 plans

The festival will go forward with a reduced lineup of films in a hybrid model of virtual and physical screenings as TIFF reduces its staff by 17% due to projected revenue losses.

Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) is moving ahead with its plan to launch a digital and in-person film fest for local and international moviegoers in the face of a potential 50% loss of revenue and a major staff cut.

The 45th edition, which runs from Sept. 10 to 19, will feature a smaller lineup of projects, with 50 feature films and five short film programs.

The hybrid festival will host physical screenings at select venues during its first five days, including a number of theatres at the TIFF Bell Lightbox, as well as outdoor screenings, such as drive-ins. The digital component will feature digital screenings, virtual red carpet events, press conferences, Q&As and an online Industry Conference. The festival has partnered with the platform Shift72 for its online screenings and events, which will span the full 10 days of TIFF.

“The pandemic has hit TIFF hard, but we’ve responded by going back to our original inspiration — to bring the very best in film to the broadest possible audience,” said Cameron Bailey, co-head and artistic director of TIFF, in a statement announcing plans for the 2020 edition. “Our teams have had to rethink everything, and open our minds to new ideas. We’re excited to present thoughtful, high-impact programming this September that reflects our belief that there’s no stopping great storytelling.”

TIFF also announced seven of the 50 features to be selected for this year’s festival, including Fauna, by Mexican-Canadian director Nicolás Pereda, and U.S. features Concrete Cowboy (pictured), directed by Ricky Staub, Good Joe Bell, by Reinaldo Marcus Green, and Halle Berry’s directorial debut Bruised. International selections include Francis Lee’s Ammonite (U.K.), Thomas Vinterberg’s Another Round (Denmark), Suzanne Lindon’s Spring Blossom (France) and Naomi Kawase’s True Mothers (Japan). The remaining selections will be announced during the summer.

New to the festival this year are TIFF Ambassadors, which represent 50 filmmakers and actors that will help support the festival, including Ava DuVernay, Martin Scorsese, Taika Waititi, Zhang Ziyi, Lulu Wang and David Oyelowo, and Canadians such as Atom Egoyan, Tantoo Cardinal, Sarah Gadon and Denis Villeneuve, with more to be announced. TIFF will also continue the Tribute Awards, which launched last year with honours for Meryl Streep, Taika Waititi, Mati Diop, and Joaquin Phoenix. The awards will be announced virtually, with honourees to be announced at a later date.

The Industry Conference will provide screenings for delegates and members of the press, as well opportunities to network and connect with buyers. TIFF will also continue its Media Inclusion Initiative to accredit emerging Black, Indigenous, People of Colour, LGBTQ+ and female critics, and introduce a measure to help companies and individuals gift industry access to 250 underrepresented filmmakers.

TIFF also announced it will collaborate with local Toronto film festivals, such as Reel Asian International Film Festival and Inside Out, as well as the Vancouver International Film Festival, and its international rivals such as Venice, Telluride and the New York Film Festival.

“This year we’ve added new innovations and ways to give back to the community. In doing so, we’re aiming to advance what a film festival is capable of delivering — for audiences and the film industry,” said Joana Vicente, executive director and cohead of TIFF. “We could never have anticipated the global seismic changes we would be facing in 2020. The distilled edition of TIFF 2020 reflects a deep love of film, passion for our loyal audiences, commitment to the industry and a whole lot of heart.”

The news comes after TIFF announced a 17% reduction in full-time staff due to revenue loss, resulting in 31 jobs cut at the festival. TIFF forecasts the organization will see a 50% reduction in revenue from 2019 due to the temporary closure of the TIFF Bell Lightbox and the impact of restrictions on travel and large gatherings.

“As a non-profit organization, we carefully considered how to manage the loss to our operating budget, while preserving as many jobs as possible and ensuring a sustainable business model. In addition to the financial impact, TIFF has also seen a reduction in some areas of work related to our operations,” said Bailey and Vicente in a joint statement, release Tuesday (June 23).

The festival has also cut salaries at the executive and management levels to help mitigate the impact, as well as reduced expenses, partially covered payroll with the federal wage subsidy, cancelled discretionary projects and launched the For the Love of Film fundraising campaign.

TIFF laid off 15 employees in November 2019 after a “comprehensive review” of its Audience First strategic plan and operating model. The festival said the 2019 layoffs were not financially motivated.

Photo courtesy of TIFF