After a couple of turbulent years, the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) is back to a scale and format comparable to its pre-pandemic glory. From September 8–18, hundreds of films will be screened and Toronto will momentarily feel like the centre of the arts and entertainment world.
However, moviegoing has changed significantly since lockdowns began in early 2020. People need more motivation to actually go out and see a movie at a theatre, as streaming services are creeping into industry leadership. 2022 has had some inspiringly well-performing films: Top Gun: Maverick broke records and Everything Everywhere All At Once was a major hit. But it remains to be seen whether movies without near-hyperbolic positive word of mouth can flourish in a ‘post-pandemic’ landscape.
This is a big question for TIFF, whose big-ticket items are usually those destined for awards and critical acclaim and not general appeal or box office success. The lineup this year is pretty strong and diverse. The absence of many headliners of other fall film festivals — such as White Noise, Bones and All, and Tár — is explained away by a couple of exclusive premieres: Glass Onion, the sequel to 2019’s Knives Out; and, surprisingly, Steven Spielberg’s The Fabelmans. Not to mention features like The Whale, starring an apparently awards-deserving Brendan Fraser; Sarah Polley’s heavily lauded Women Talking; and Palme d’Or-winning social satire Triangle of Sadness.
Moreover, the slate this year was announced in a drawn-out, piecemeal fashion, seemingly emphasizing each big premiere individually as much as possible to build public engagement and enthusiasm. Glass Onion is the film festival equivalent of a blockbuster, and they’re also finding new veins to tap; an event featuring Taylor Swift was announced more recently, and now all of the ticket portals are plastered with notices that it’s firmly sold out.
Purchasing tickets has been difficult in general. A friend of mine, who is a seasoned TIFF attendee and a bottomless well of film festival knowledge, said that this year’s buying process was “frustrating” and the ticket services in place are disappointingly obtuse and prone to failure.
The pricing scheme is confusing too — online listings showing that tickets are $19 like in previous years, but when you actually buy them through Ticketmaster most showtimes are a minimum of $30 per ticket. Weekday screenings starting before 5:00 pm are very cheap, though, at only $11 for those under 25 — less than most normal movie tickets — and $19 for those over 25.
If you’ve got an open mind and propensity for more uncertainty, the Under-25 Festival Rush Pass is a great opportunity. When a showtime is drawing near, some members of its rush line have the chance to be admitted into vacant seats. The pass is going for a measly $29; using it, you can access as many rush-eligible screenings as you want. If you go to even one film with it, it’ll pay for itself.
Digital screenings are also sticking around in a limited capacity this year, giving everybody a chance to watch a portion of this year’s selection from home. Like last year, digital screenings are extremely cost-effective because many people can watch through one ticket.
There is, however, a renewed emphasis on physical attendance this year. Most films are exclusive to the theatre, as was the case before 2020. The set of active theatres is always changing, but this year, events are focused around the TIFF Lightbox on King Street. “Festival street,” a strip of celebratory performances and screenings, was present for the first weekend, and throughout the week there will be free musical performances and outdoor screenings of movies including The Mummy (1999) and West Side Story (2021). Promotional booths have filled up a stretch of King Street, which are fun to explore even if many are just selling fancy overpriced beverages.
At this point, the festival is already well underway and a lot of the biggest screenings are sold out. But a major element of film festival attendance is discovering movies that you otherwise might never have crossed paths with. Here are some recommendations!
How to Blow Up a Pipeline is an environmentally-motivated thriller about a crew of young activists on a mission to sabotage a Texas oil pipeline. With the bleak state of climate change, this seems like a rare film that might have an interesting and worthwhile perspective. It draws from the Platform programme, which showcases new and rising filmmakers, but was selected by Peter Kuplowsky, U of T alum and coordinator of TIFF’s Midnight Madness screenings, so it’s reasonable to expect something more than a sober drama.
Devotion leans more mainstream: a Korean War naval aviation movie with rising stars Jonathon Majors — from Da 5 Bloods and Loki — and Glen Powell — Top Gun: Maverick. Majors plays Jesse Brown, the US Navy’s first Black aviator. Apart from his intense dedication — or perhaps devotion — to his dangerous job, he also faces the prejudice of a newly desegregated military. Devotion looks substantial and spectacular. Every showing is also in IMAX, which is always pleasant.
At the time of this writing all of these films have tickets still available. TIFF is a Toronto staple and a great way to start the new academic year with energy! Stay safe and go see some movies this week!