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TIFF plans a "walkable" September fest as fully in-person screenings resume

TIFF CEO Cameron Bailey leads a mimosa toast to the organization at a welcome back breakfast at TIFF Bell Lightbox.

Peter Howell

Movie Critic

The Toronto International Film Festival wants to be a "walkable" fest this September 8-18 as it returns to fully in-person screenings for what it hopes will be a post-pandemic world.

TIFF CEO Cameron Bailey told a media "welcome back" breakfast April 1 that it's "not an accident" the fest has grouped its 2022 fest theatres near its TIFF Bell Lightbox HQ at King and John Sts. Besides the five public screens at the Lightbox, TIFF will also use Roy Thomson Hall, Princess of Wales Theatre, Scotiabank Theatre, the CBC's Glenn Gould Studio and, for the first time, 1,000-seat Royal Alexandra Theatre, the 115-year-old beaux-arts venue at 260 King St. W.

Said Bailey: "I want people to run into each other, to bump into each other again, to have those casual conversations that you didn't predict, that actually throw you in another direction. You hear about a movie that you didn't know you needed to see. And suddenly you need to see it ...

"That happens when you're walking from place to place and you bump into friends and colleagues or even sometimes people you've never met before. They're excited about something new. So we designed the footprint of the festival this year to encourage that ... It's a walkable festival."

The walking will include the return of Festival Street, where part of King St. — from Peter St. to University Ave. — is turned into a pedestrian mall from Sept. 8-11, to celebrate all things to do with film.

If it all comes to fruition, TIFF 2022 will be a lot like the 2019 edition of the festival, the last one before COVID-19 hit. The 2020 and 2021 editions were hybrid fests, a combination of in-person — which included drive-in theatres — and online screenings.

The fest will continue to use its digital TIFF Bell Lightbox online platform, which it created in response to the pandemic's forced closure of TIFF Bell Lightbox. It's been a popular way to watch festival films at home, but Bailey said this year it will offer just "a kind of sampling, a little taste," to encourage people to return to theatres.

All of this depends, of course, on whether COVID can be damped down enough to allow a fully in-person TIFF again. This is not a sure thing, given the rise of a new Omicron variant that has led to rising infections and a sixth wave of the pandemic.

TIFF will adjust its plans to adapt to COVID as it announces its films over the coming weeks and months.

The festival has learned to live with uncertainty over the past two years, Bailey said, and "we are ready to respond to whatever happens." 🌓

Twitter: @peterhowellfilm

The 115-year-old Royal Alexandra Theatre, a new 1,000-seat venue for the Toronto International Film Festival.


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