As the Toronto Film Festival marks a big post-pandemic return to the physical realm with something almost normal for its 47th edition, the biggest sighs of relief may well come from local Canadian filmmakers and premiere party organizers.
“You cannot launch a festival film digitally. You need to build up hype in person. You need to meet people in person to be able to forge relationships to launch your film,” Markhor Pictures producer Shehrezade Mian, who is launching Antoine Bourges’ Concrete Valley immigrant drama in Toronto as part of the Wavelengths sidebar, told The Hollywood Reporter.
Mian insists fellow filmmakers who screened their films at scaled-down Toronto festivals in 2020 and 2021 had their launch plans undermined by play on digital platforms. “The buzz this year is so much more hyped and so much more intense,” she added.
Director Kelly Fyffe-Marshall, who is bringing her feature film debut When Morning Comes for a world premiere in Toronto, recalls launching her award-winning short film Black Bodies online and at a lower key TIFF in 2020 amid the pandemic.
“A lot of that happened from my house. Being able to have my debut feature at TIFF two years later and to be outside and see people’s reaction means a lot to me as a filmmaker. I really enjoy watching people watch my films. I’m super excited,” Fyffe-Marshall insisted.
For party organizers, Toronto’s return to the physical realm means they can host traditional press junkets, talent dinners and pre- and post-screening parties much as they did before the pandemic hit major festivals.
“Our expectation is Toronto will be coming back as it was in 2019,” said David Manning, executive vp at Los Angeles-based A-List Communications, which will host premiere parties at Marbl on King Street for movies like Baby Ruby, Susie Searches and Butcher’s Crossing, with Nicolas Cage attending.
Despite the pandemic waning, Manning says Hollywood studios are still keen to ensure the safety of talent at premiere parties. “People in studios are still guarded about controlling the size of parties, and some are looking for outdoor opportunities or great ventilation. I haven’t got many requests for larger 250- to 500-person parties,” he added as the glitzy Marbl restaurant also will host premiere parties for The Blackening, The Return of Tanya Tucker, Carmen, One Fine Morning, starring Lea Seydoux, and The Hunt Club.
Charles Khabouth, CEO of Ink Entertainment, will see his downtown Toronto venues like Bisha Hotel, Pink Sky, Story’s, Patria and the private member club Clio return as prime locations for Hollywood star-watchers during TIFF’s 2022 edition. “They’ve been requesting food and drinks and cigars and security and lighting and décor and being private,” Khabouth said of business he’ll do this year with Hollywood studios and streamers launching their original movies in Toronto.
That’s in stark contrast to the last two years where TIFF’s hybrid digital and limited in-person festivals meant virtually empty downtown streets and local restaurants and nightclubs barely keeping their lights on as Hollywood and other international filmmakers stayed home.
“Everybody tried to keep some spirit virtually but really it was a ‘Why bother?’ This year, for me and for the whole city, it’s the most exciting time of the year,” Khabouth added. And that excitement is echoed by filmmakers as they return to live theaters filled with eager film-goers for world premieres.
“The buzz of being in-person, of being there, and people can ask you questions, that word of mouth especially for a smaller film is crucial to a life after the festival,” insisted director Carly Stone, whose latest film, North of Normal, starring Sarah Gadon and Robert Carlyle, will have a debut at Bell Lightbox on Sunday.
Fellow Canadian director Donald Shebib, whose latest film, Nighttalk, will also have a world premiere at Bell Lightbox, echoed others in insisting that seeing a movie on a digital platform and in a live theater represents two different experiences.
“I make films for an audience. And I can read an audience, feel when their bodies get itchy and people lose interest,” he told THR. “So it’s a whole different experience than just watching a film by yourself.”