Pause and try to remember: What were you doing on the 23rd of January? Did you hit the gym? Did you attend a group study session for the first test of the winter term? Perhaps you were out with friends celebrating a birthday.
On January 23, a lockdown was initiated in the city of Wuhan, China; an early yet prominent step in a downward spiral of events that has occurred due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Physical distancing emerged as the new normal, yet it is now September in Toronto and the old normal is increasingly being embraced—from a distance. An example of this is the 45th edition of the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) running from September 10 to 19.
I’m happy to hear that the team at TIFF is thinking of ways to adapt and create solutions that prioritize festival goers’ safety.
One of the films featured in the 2020 lineup is Hao Wu’s 76 Days, a documentary depicting the tribulations of frontline workers at the epicentre of the initial outbreak. 76 Days is one of the pinnacles of TIFF 2020, relaying the story of the catastrophe that influenced the change in operations of the festival.
Natalia Morales, a third-year film production student and president of York’s Film Student Association (FSA), comments on these changes in operations.
It goes without saying that this will be an unconventional year for film, but I’m happy to hear that the team at TIFF is thinking of ways to adapt and create solutions that prioritize festival goers’ safety,” Morales says.
One of the biggest changes TIFF has made to operations is the expansion of ways attendees can access the festival’s content, outlined in their How to Festival guide. This expansion includes drive-in screenings, open air screenings, and digital screenings available only in Canada. Venues include: the Visa Skyline Drive-in at CityView, the RBC Lakeside Drive-in at Ontario Place, the OLG Play Stage at Ontario Place, and the West Island Open-Air Cinema at Ontario Place.
I definitely don’t feel comfortable attending in person.
In-person screenings will still take place at the TIFF Bell Lightbox with assigned seating. Audience members must wear a mask while in the buildings, however masks may be removed once they are seated.
A selection of regular festival goers are questioning the inclusion of indoor screening options, such as Ayicia Nabigon, a fourth-year environmental biology student at York and two-year TIFF veteran.
I definitely don’t feel comfortable attending in person,” explains Nabigon. “The prospect of drive-in events is a great idea. Watching a show from your car adds more experience to viewing than watching from your couch at home, especially for younger people,” Nabigon says.
A vital part of the traditional TIFF experience will nonetheless be absent this year. Volunteers clad in matching T-shirts will not be present to answer questions, direct visitors to screenings, or to share in the excitement for the opportunity to observe new, stand-out cinema.
“Last year I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to volunteer at TIFF, and my experience there was priceless,” remembers Morales. “From my first shift volunteering it was clear to me that TIFF highly valued its volunteers, whether it was their first year volunteering or their tenth.
“Though I was sad that I wouldn’t be able to return as a volunteer this year, I knew that ultimately this decision was made out of safety concerns for the volunteers, which I respect,” Morales says.
After a summer lacking in traditional blockbusters and other new releases, the return of movies, even with restrictions in place, is something to be grateful for.
“I’m really looking forward to the 76 Days documentary,” says Nabigon. “It’s going to be scary, but I’m really interested to see the fear and general uncertainty that were present in the early days of COVID-19.”