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

·3 min read

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

However, the day began with big technical problems for some — organizers acknowledged films were not playing properly on the digital press and industry site early in the day.

"We are aware of the issue where users have been unable to play films on TIFF Digital Cinema Pro this morning and are currently investigating," said a post on the official TIFF Twitter account Thursday morning, after several users vented their frustrations on social media.

This year's 10-day hybrid event offers more indoor screenings 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 were to 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, were also set to return with international stars, but without the usual crowds.

The opening night film "Dear Evan Hansen" was to kick things off with writer-director Stephen Chbosky, actor Ben Platt and other talent from the musical feature 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."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 9, 2021.

Victoria Ahearn, The Canadian Press

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