If 2021 has been a year of resilience for the Toronto International Film Festival – at least according to the first line of TIFF’s latest annual report – then what has 2022 meant for the most lavish from Canada? According to chief executive Cameron Bailey, now a year after taking over as solo helm of the organization following the departure of co-director Joana Vicente last fall, TIFF 2022 was all about “recovery”.
“I’m not good at impactful reflections, but I get a real sense of satisfaction from working with everyone here to deliver a festival that was a success for filmmakers, audiences and Toronto,” Bailey said. during an interview last week inside TIFF’s five-screen Bell Lightbox headquarters. “The city had a deeper and longer shutdown than many other places with a big festival, so it was important for us to re-establish our place on the map.”
The recently published figures mainly confirm this sentiment. The 47th edition of TIFF attracted a total of 214,000 attendees with tickets for in-person events (208,000 guests) and digital events with public tickets (6,000), the latter program being significantly smaller than that offered at previous editions. hybrids 2020 and 2021.
TIFF says its festival attendance in 2022 has reached 89% of its 2019 figures “based on capacity”, meaning in terms of the total number of tickets available each year. (In 2019, the last “regular” edition of the pre-pandemic festival, TIFF screened 333 titles: 245 feature films, 82 short films, six series. This year, the programming was reduced to 245 titles: 199 feature films, 39 shorts, seven series.) However, without factoring in capacity, 2022 attendance is 69% of the 307,362 public tickets scanned in 2019, down about 30%.
“Attendance is always a concern because you want full theaters, but this year’s numbers reflect fewer films, fewer screenings, fewer seats to fill,” Bailey says. “The seats we want to fill are at about the same capacity as in the past.”
At this point, don’t expect festival lineup to return to pre-pandemic levels. Bailey says that while the 2022 edition could have benefited from three or four additional screens, the organizing principle going forward is to ensure a walkable festival – with venues concentrated near the King West Corridor of the city center – that offers something for every type of audience without feeling overwhelming.
“Could it be a little smaller?” Yes. Could it be a little bigger? Maybe. Could it be much bigger? No,” Bailey said.
Yet for a film festival to work, its guests must be able to obtain tickets with relative ease – an experience a large and vocal contingent of TIFF attendees missed this year thanks to a frustrating Ticketmaster system. , prompting Bailey to apologize. the day before the start of the festival. The process is now being dissected and reworked by a team led by new COO Beth Janson.
“If you’re the recipient of things, it looks like a technology problem, but it’s more of a process problem,” says Bailey, noting that Ticketmaster will still be part of the 2023 festival. things that are mostly on our side. Over the years we’ve made decisions that have added layers of complexity, like barnacles on a whale. »
Another element to rethink is the way TIFF manages its stars press conferences. This year, TIFF asked journalists to submit questions in advance instead of asking them live in the room, with selected queries delivered by moderators without attributing them to journalists or media outlets.
“Having spent years as a journalist, I understand the work journalists do here. I also know that the people who present films to us are now working in an atmosphere where there are all kinds of risk factors – it is sometimes difficult to maintain a conversation on the subject in a public session,” explains Bailey. “But we all agree that it wasn’t the ideal way.”
On the programming side, this year’s festival featured global superstars such as Taylor Swift and Harry Styles alongside huge world premieres including Steven Spielberg’s. The Fabelmans and Glass onion: a mystery at loggerheads, the latest of which is now playing a week-long engagement at Lightbox. But there was also a glut of mediocre streaming fare and an absence of high-profile bait films that debuted in Venice (Tar, Bones and all, white noise) and New York (Until she said) festivals.
“We’re all trying to do our best for our own festival, and there’s always that jockey for the titles,” says Bailey. “But the real value we bring is in terms of Toronto viewership, a fact that has become so much clearer to me during the pandemic. For films that need to figure out how they might play with North American audiences, there’s something irreplaceable coming to Toronto.
The so-called “Telluride Rule” is also still in place at TIFF. This means that, for the first half of the festival and in its larger venues, TIFF will focus on films that, Bailey says, “come to us first. … That doesn’t mean we won’t invite your film. There is a Tetris in all of this. (Empire of Light, wonderment and women who talk all had their world premiere at Telluride days before the screening during the second half of TIFF.)
Outside of the festival, TIFF’s five-screen Lightbox delivered a number of success stories in 2022, all of which are crucial given the relative dearth of new theatrical releases in the exhibition landscape, let alone the film market. increasingly difficult art and essay.
TIFF’s new fall season saw a 158% increase in gross revenue over the same period in 2019, with box office highlights including triangle of sadness (the Lightbox was the first film theater in Canada and the 8th in North America), the hall of David Cronenberg Future Crimes (#1 theater in North America on opening weekend) and the Tamil-language epic Ponniyin Selvan: Iwho became the third highest-grossing new Lightbox release (after Moonlight and pina), earning $270,921.
“We know there’s a structural barrier for independent movie theater operators in Canada, so where the well ran dry, we dug a new well,” says Bailey. “Part of that means playing movies from streaming platforms, but it also means playing movies for South Asian audiences who previously didn’t arrive downtown.” (Just announced this week, TIFF will host the Spectacular series in December, Spectacular: The Mythic Cinema of SS Rajamouli, director of this year’s global Telugu-language sensation. RRR.)
However, any conversation about the state of arthouse cinema is currently taking place in the shadow of the Edinburgh International Film Festival, which collapsed last month along with its associated Filmhouse cinema, the main theater independent of the city.
“Edinburgh is a very specific situation with its funding model, and I don’t think other festivals are vulnerable in the same way,” says Bailey. “But we are all vulnerable when it comes to how people want to watch movies now and what kind of movies. It’s constantly changing, and I think we’re stronger if we can figure things out together.
To this end, TIFF is called upon to become the largest member of the Canadian Independent Exhibitor Network (PLEASANT), which formed in 2018 to support the country’s struggling independent sector.
Meanwhile, TIFF is now a year away from its latest three-year strategic plan, which carries long-standing familiar goals (“Reinventing the TIFF Bell Lightbox experience”), but this time around relies on a team largely renewed direction. There’s COO Janson, who arrived this spring from the Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television, but also Anita Lee (head of programming), Elisabeth Burks (vice-president, partnerships) and Marsha John-Greenwood (Vice President, People and Culture).
“The festival will always be the most important thing we do, but there’s work to be done to make sure we’re ready to deliver throughout the year,” says Bailey. “Part of it’s the movies we play – the biggest, actually – but also once people walk into the building, what’s the experience like? You can no longer assume that going to the cinema outside the home is a habit. Watching movies is one habit, but going to the cinema is something else.