The types of films also changed. There’s a greater emphasis on showcasing work by women -- which make up almost half of this year’s slate -- and movies with social-justice themes, Bailey said.
While the festival lacks size this year, it doesn’t lack scope. The film chosen for opening night was “David Byrne’s American Utopia,” Spike Lee’s version of the ex-Talking Heads frontman’s Broadway show. Other anticipated movies include “Concrete Cowboy,” starring Idris Elba, and “Ammonite,” a Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan love story set in 19th-century Dorset.
In documentaries, 76 Days assembles original footage of the chaos and compassion at hospitals in Wuhan, China during the coronavirus outbreak. TIFF, as usual, is also showing films that premiered elsewhere: Chloé Zhao’s “Nomadland,” starring Frances McDormand, opened at Venice, where it was awarded the Golden Lion for best film.
Even with its widely anticipated releases, TIFF finances are likely to take a hit this year. Bailey said box-office revenue should decline proportionally with the drop in number of films this year. The year-round TIFF organization already forecast a 50% reduction in revenue compared with 2019. That should have a knock-on effect on Toronto’s film industry. The festival has been generating more than C$200 million ($152 million) in annual economic activity for Canada’s most populous city and the province of Ontario, the non-profit group has said.
Will the truncated version succeed?
Thursday’s opening night on an eerily quiet King Street West, TIFF’s epicenter, provided a curtain-raiser for how this year’s confab changed. No glitterati-seeking cinephiles were clogging every vantage point in front of The Princess of Wales Theatre. None of filmdom’s royalty preened and pranced along the red carpet leading to Roy Thomson Hall. There were no congenial half-mile queues, celebrity-packed parties or heaving restaurants. And zero pizazz.
“It’s extremely depressing,” said Justina Krupa, who worked the near-empty lobby of TIFF Bell Lightbox, normally a miasma of movement. “I’m happy that they found a solution to a more discreet festival,” said the 24-year-old film-school graduate, who has attended the festival for a decade, “but it’s a bit unfortunate.”
There’s bound to be an emotional impact for TIFF’s loyal fans such as Colleen Weddell, 51, a stay-at-home mom whose birthday coincides with the festival. For years, she celebrated by going to TIFF screenings with friends and crowding behind barricades to catch a glimpse of celebrities.
“When you love movies, you love movies,” Weddell said, adding that this time she’s forced to stick to the online offerings. “For my own little world, it’s going to be a little harder this year.”