Hybrid Toronto International Film Festival kicks off with more in-person screenings


TORONTO — The Toronto International Film Festival kicks off today with an emphasis on the big screen and big pandemic precautions.

This year’s 10-day hybrid event will offer screenings at more indoor venues than last year’s smaller showcase, which was largely held online as COVID-19 ramped up.

Venues including the Princess of Wales Theatre and Roy Thomson Hall will operate at half capacity and forgo rush ticketing, indoor lineups and food and drink sales.

Anyone entering TIFF venues must wear masks, socially distance and show proof they have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or proof they have tested negative for the virus within 48 hours beforehand.

Red-carpet galas and press conferences, which were absent last year, will also return with international stars, but without the usual crowds.

“Dear Evan Hansen” is the opening-night film and writer-director Stephen Chbosky, actor Ben Platt and other talent from the musical feature are slated to be in town.

Other stars set to appear at the 46th edition of TIFF include Jessica Chastain, Benedict Cumberbatch and Dionne Warwick, who are each bringing films and will be honoured at a closing night awards broadcast Sept. 18 on CTV.

This year’s festival has more than 100 films, up from the 60 features last year, and plans special in-person screenings across the country Sept. 13. Films will also be screened at drive-ins, open-air cinemas and online.

Organizers say they’re “incredibly concerned” about the highly contagious Delta variant but feel they’re taking all of the measures necessary to provide a safe environment.

TIFF co-head Joana Vicente says organizers wanted to build on what they did last year and “welcome audiences back to the big theatrical experience in the bigger venues.”

As last year’s festival proved, “film helps get people through something like a global pandemic,” says fellow TIFF co-head Cameron Bailey.

“To see audiences at the drive-ins, to hear from them online how meaningful it was for them to see new movies, to be taken away from their immediate circumstances to maybe another part of the world or someone else’s story, that was really valuable,” Bailey said in a recent interview.

“And that continues to this day. COVID is still affecting so many people’s lives and I think we all need some way of transporting ourselves beyond what we’re facing on a daily basis. And movies do that, sometimes better than anything else. So we’re continuing to do that, and we’re doing it in as wide a way as possible.”

Victoria Ahearn, The Canadian Press