The Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) is as Torontonian as Drake. So, when Covid-19 spread across the globe this year, local film lovers worried that the famed festival would be cancelled. Thankfully, it wasn’t. Instead, this year TIFF went primarily virtual, omitting in-person celebrity meetups, and alternatively offering virtual premiers and Q&As.
I attended two events, of which one was virtual and one in-person, each having unique pros and cons.
“In Conversation with Saoirse Ronan”
For this virtual event, the four-time Oscar nominee Saoirse Ronan Zoomed in from London to chat with a Toronto-based moderator and her fans. The site where all the virtual showings took place was masterfully designed and easy to navigate. However, rather than speaking directly with Ronan, we had to type in our questions, among which the moderator would choose a total of three.
While being online somewhat depersonalized the event, I felt that it was more successful than physically going to see a movie at TIFF this year. The rolling video camera and Ronan’s home décor in the background created a vulnerability that is often unseen at TIFF Q&A events. That being said, the divide between the audience and Ronan was made more prominent because fans couldn’t ask her questions directly. Regardless, the event was a great experience, with Ronan giving honest and thoughtful answers. Needless to say, she’s an exceptional actress and person.
Dir. Viggo Mortensen
Starring: Viggo Mortensen, Laura Linney, and David Cronenberg
I was lucky enough to see Falling, Viggo Mortensen’s directorial debut, in person. To do so, I had to pre-order my tickets and walked directly to a pre-assigned seat, bypassing the closed concession stand. Watching a movie without food is a foreign concept to me and, I’m sure, my fellow movie-goers.
The walk down to and from the TIFF Bell Lightbox didn’t feel as joyful and exciting as previous years. It felt like a funeral procession, a stark reminder of how Covid-19 has affected festivals and of what once was. There were no barricades when you hit Adelaide West, only the restaurant patios expanding into the street. Instead of the usual TIFF signs stretching down to King Street West, the first sign I saw was at the theatre itself.
I also couldn’t help but feel this year’s differences while watching Mortensen introduce his movie and answer questions through Skype.
Falling is about a gay man living in Los Angeles when his conservative father comes to visit. The story reflects Donald Trump’s America, where conservative parents vote for a homophobic president, not acting in the interest of their liberal children. While the story sounded interesting, the film was far from a masterpiece. Mortensen couldn’t find the balance between social commentary and exposition. As a result, the scenes felt half-baked. While the acting was superb, the expositive scenes dragged on, allowing the audience to believe the movie was about to end.
The movie would have benefitted with a shorter run time and more profound dialogue scenes. The narrative was choppy, and there was one flashback too many, so while it was a decent film, I’d recommend saving the trip to the cinema.
TIFF was always going to be different in 2020. This year, closing your laptop at home felt less celebratory and more mournful. Given the circumstances, TIFF adapted well with a website that was accessible and user-friendly. It also tried its best to recreate the festive feel. Without TIFF, 2020 would’ve felt even bleaker; so, although the spirit of TIFF was lacking, I’m glad I attended. Hopefully, TIFF 2021 will have fewer restrictions.
My main takeaway from TIFF is that the arts are crucial to the survival of culture in Toronto. Without our vibrant arts, Toronto feels a bit empty. We must ensure provincial and federal governments continue to fund the arts if we wish to experience diverse films in the future.
The pandemic may eventually go away one day, but the arts should not.