The red carpet is back at TIFF, but big questions still arise about the future of cinema

A motorcade of Hollywood pompous and cinematic hype has steadily poured into the Toronto International Film Festival this week, but a dark cloud has hung over the celebration as the film industry struggles. faces important questions about its future.

Three years have passed since TIFF last held the festival entirely live, and in that time, the film world has experienced an earthquake.

Movie theaters, once a trusted part of the movie business, have fallen into financial uncertainty while the streaming industry has picked up some slack. Movies that once enjoyed an award season that lasted six to eight months can now open in their home countries within weeks of hitting theaters.

If television is at the center of the cultural conversation, some observers say that raises questions about whether TIFF – or any other film festival – will retain the cultural vibrancy it enjoys. did it or not.

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Amil Niazi, host of the CBC Pop Chat podcast, says that the excitement surrounding this year’s TIFF return comes “under the umbrella of questioning and deliberation” about what it means to be one of biggest film festivals in the world.

“There are more and more questions about the purpose of a live festival… and whether that kind of glitz and circumstance, glitz and glamor really has a place in the industry.” Niazi said.

After hosting mostly digital screenings over the past two years, organizers at TIFF seem determined to prove a live festival is the way to go. For 11 days starting Thursday, the festival will host film premiere parties, Q-and-A’s, as well as concerts and pedestrian activities from corporate sponsors along the way. follow King Street West, or Festival Street.

Inside movie theaters, TIFF returns to its pre-pandemic scale with over 200 feature films.

Harry Styles, Oprah Winfrey and Daniel Craig will be among the names in town for the film’s premiere, while Taylor Swift travels through Toronto to discuss and screen the 13-minute short film “All Too Well,” launched online last November.

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Several film selections will celebrate the communal virtues of cinema. Steven Spielberg’s semi-autobiographical “The Fabelmans” and Sam Mendes’ cinematic home drama “Empire of Light” both build plots around the appeal of the silver screen, while Chandler Levack’s “I Like Movies” launched at a video store chain in Canada.

Those nostalgic reflections are also a reminder of the popular viewing habits that quickly become folklore.

After months of COVID-19 closures, audiences have returned to theaters in significant numbers, but not enough to reach pre-pandemic levels.

Even breaking the record of “Top Gun: Maverick” this summer did not alleviate concerns. Aside from a handful of superhero movies and sequels, few have achieved breakthrough status and the most anticipated titles are coming to film festivals – including “Crime of the Future” by David Cronenberg and George Miller’s “Three Thousand Years of Desire” – died at the box office.

Meanwhile, a seemingly bottomless supply of cash from tech companies has allowed Netflix and other streaming giants to win prize-winning carnival titles, leaving smaller indie distributors to suffering from their own financial debts.

All of this creates uncertainty about the future shape of the industry as TIFF returns.

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Claire Peace-McConnell doesn’t believe any of these outside forces will leave a dent in TIFF’s reputation. The head of Canadian content development at distributor VVS Films said the festival understands that while films are its main event, it also involves “all the extras “.

“Being in the room when Steven Spielberg had the world premiere, it was a once in a lifetime opportunity,” she said, pointing to the upcoming world premiere of “The Fabelmans” on Saturday.

“I think whoever says the festival is dead, they need that screening and they need to feel the energy in that room. Because it’s irreplaceable.”

But while the promise of a famous pen may draw large audiences to some public screenings, the rest of the TIFF selections face a less certain fate.

Many Canadian arts events have struggled with unpredictable attendance since their spaces reopened over the past year, and it’s unclear how many festival-goers will be in attendance. small art film.

Powys Dewhurst, a film director who also oversees strategy for industry events, says that uncertainty causes all arts gatherings – not just TIFFs.

“Many different academies that are struggling during the pandemic fill their seats,” he said.

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“I think there’s no real way to tell what that’s going to be like at this stage.”

Pushing ahead, TIFF organizers seem determined to set aside any stark reminders of the pandemic.

Gone are the driving styles that couples celebrate in the privacy of their SUVs, while outdoor movies under the stars have been reduced to classics instead of early screenings.

Even the virtual screenings that win over festival newcomers are slowly turning black. Only two dozen titles are available for home rental after September 13.

Cameron Bailey, chief executive officer of TIFF, defended the small list of home-watching titles, saying that in some cases the choice is left to the film’s producers and distributors.

“(They) are very cautious about recommending their movies online,” he said, pointing to factors such as piracy.

“Over the past two years when we didn’t have many options, the rights holders have cooperated as much as possible to allow us to show some online across Canada.”

Click to play video: 'TIFF returns to live experience in September'

TIFF returns with live experience in September

TIFF returns with live experience September – April 1, 2022

Candice Frederick, senior culture reporter at the Huffington Post in New York, suggests: Less or no virtual selection is a mistake for any film festival hoping to remain relevant.

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“Going forward, I think every major festival should have that capability,” she said.

“There will be a significant number of people just experiencing virtual festivals, so I think that is indispensable. That idea without that foundation will always be a mistake.”

Frederick believes TIFF will maintain its appeal, even as the broader industry faces unprecedented conflict.

“There is still enough reverence for the theater. People will attend a festival, maybe not the same way they did in the past, and maybe even infrequently, but… people still want to go,” she said.

Niazi agrees, but suggests that some trends could eventually blur the landscape around TIFF.

“If it’s really the winning comeback it agrees to, I think (TIFF) will really be a smaller, more tightly controlled version of itself,” she added.

– With files from Nicole Thompson

© 2022 Canadian Press

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