TIFF 2021: We are trying our best to go back to The Real Normal
TORONTO – There is a gaping hole in front of Roy Thomson Hall. Where there was once a long white pitched-up tent where the media elbowed each other to get a word in edge-wise to famous celebrities as they graced the red carpet, there now stand dog walkers picking up poop in David Pecaut Square. It is quiet. No screaming fans, no flash photography. But all is not lost.
A long lineup of fans, fans willing to risk the wrath of Delta, emerge from around the corner and stream into the Princess of Wales Theatre in an orderly fashion. All wearing face masks. In long gown attire. It has been that long since we have had a reason to dress up in public for a special occasion.
CNE got cancelled this year, but TIFF persisted. A sign that we are trying our best to go back to The Real Normal. We even opened our doors to A-list stars who are expected to appear in-person: Jessica Chastain, Benedict Cumberbatch, Vincent D’Onofrio, Kenny G, Andrew Garfield, Richard Jenkins, Keira Knightley, Steven Soderbergh, Denis Villeneuve, Dionne Warwick.
If Sigourney Weaver can kill an Alien, then Delta Plus is a walk in the park.
Julianne Moore and Amandla Stenberg (little Rue who reduced us to tears in “The Hunger Games”. Kenneth Branagh and women-hold-your-breath 50 Shades Jamie Dornan. Finally! A glimmer of hope in this pandemic. Something to actually look forward to. That is, until you learn that there is no real “Fan Zone” for spectators to squeal over their favourite celebrities. No barricades, no bleachers. The closest you can even get to any of these stars is if you are a member of the Media and are bearing an invitational pass. And it is this creeping reality, that TIFF has become ever so more exclusive to the in-crowd, which makes this year somewhat saddening.
TIFF was and should still be for Torontonians at large. A place where locals, tourists and elite stars can all converge and meet in common ground. Just reading newspaper clippings about celebrities passing through our city is no fun. We need to defibrillate our Events scene in Toronto. When you are hanging over the barricade, shoulder to shoulder with fans trying to get selfies with Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper and your newspaper photographer colleagues are teetering on the edge of their stepladders and you hear the uproar from another crowd wailing down King St. because another A-lister has just stepped out of a black 4 x 4 – these are the moments when you can really feel the pulse of Toronto.
Peering through the murky glass, it looks like they are having fun in the foyer of Roy Thomson Hall; someone is holding a microphone. One can only assume that there must be a celebrity amongst them? Meanwhile, we pace up and down in search of a TIFF-that-once-was. King Street is not even closed and TTC streetcar drivers sigh in relief as the threat of groupies bolting across the street to Princess of Wales Theatre to get a glimpse of Ryan Gosling is not imminent.
TIFF took a hit last year. From a budget of $45 million, it plummeted to $26 million 4.
Online streaming just does not have the same effect as sitting in the same theatre as Hollywood stars.
One can only hope that TIFF can bounce back in 2021. And that in 2022, no star will have to think twice about variant transmission when they lean over to sign an autograph or pose for a selfie.