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TIFF 2021: In-person and red carpet to return, but no popcorn

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After a pandemic-savaged year, The Toronto International Film Festival is back. 

On Wednesday, organizers announced that this year’s festival, which is scheduled to take place Sept. 9-18, will be an in-person affair again. That means showings at indoor theatres — including the Princess of Wales Theatre, Roy Thomson Hall and the Cinesphere Theatre at Ontario Place — coupled with outdoor cinemas and drive-ins largely used during last year’s event.

The number of movies included has also increased from 2020. While they haven’t returned to pre-pandemic numbers, TIFF 2021 will have 100 films in its official selection — doubling the amount from last year’s drastically scaled-back slate. 

On Wednesday, organizers announced some of the films that will be showing at the festival. They include the Alanis Morissette documentary Jagged and Danis Goulet’s sci-fi thriller Night Raiders, which is partially inspired by the history of Canada’s residential school system.

Also, Denis Villeneuve’s long-delayed Dune will have a screening in IMAX for the first time, roughly a week after its scheduled world premiere at the Venice Film Festival. 

Other films announced include:

  • Éric Warin and Tahir Rana’s Charlotte.
  • Dave Wolley and David Heilbroner’s Dionne Warwick: Don’t Make Me Over.
  • The Naomi Watts-led thriller Lakewood.
  • The British psychological horror Last Night in Soho.
  • Kenneth Branagh’s Belfast, starring Judi Dench.
  • Petite Maman, directed by Céline Sciamma.
  • And the comedy-drama The Starling.

Strong reliance on digital platform

The 100-film slate is still a far cry from the roughly 250 films seen at TIFF pre-COVID, and in an interview with CBC News, festival co-heads Cameron Bailey and Joana Vicente said a number of changes added in 2020 will continue into 2021. 

That means reduced-capacity theatres, though there will be a higher capacity limit than the 50 audience members allowed at the TIFF Bell Lightbox last year. In-person audiences will also have to be masked, and there will be a return of TIFF’s digital screening platform — allowing cinephiles outside Ontario to watch showings online.

“We’re inviting every film to present to audiences, both in person and on the digital platform,” Bailey said. “And we hope and we encourage them all to to make sure that they’re able to just give that access to audiences, whether they’re in cinema in Toronto or across Canada.”

“It is a hybrid festival, but we love the word hybrid — It doesn’t have to be a bad word,” Vicente added. “We actually think there will be a hybrid component there of the festival that will continue for years to come… so that’s here to stay.”

No plans for vaccination requirement

Vicente said there’s currently no plan to require vaccinations for audience members, though organizers will “wait and see” whether that situation changes. There will also be a strict “no popcorn” component, as concession services won’t be available at any screenings.  

And while they confirmed the return of the red carpet, it, too, will likely look different. Due to border restrictions that still haven’t been fully hammered out, Vicente said they would have to see “which talent is in Canada” at the time, and the carpet itself will have social distancing and mask requirements. 

Vicente also said that, departing from its traditional location outside of the Princess of Wales Theatre, the red carpet may take place inside to avoid large crowds gathering.

TIFF’s 2021 return comes off of what Vicente described as an “incredibly challenging” year. The festival saw half of its revenue drop, and planning its return also proved incredibly difficult with changing restrictions and guidelines. Because of that, aspects of the festival are still subject to change. 

It’s “tricky to plan when you don’t know all the answers,” Vicente said. “Things are uncertain. You’re learning every day and you just need to be nimble and adapt.”

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