TIFF calls on fans to continue film fest rituals

Despite many changes this year, the festival wants to show that it is maintaining its role in culture and the film industry.

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The Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) is making it clear that it is “to be continued,” and that pandemic pivots aren’t going to prevent it from fulfilling its role in the world of film.

This year’s festival will look drastically different, consisting of socially-distanced screenings, drive-ins and outdoor experiences, as well as talks and screenings hosted on Bell Digital Cinema, TIFF’s new digital screening platform. There will also only be 50 films screened this year, compared to over 300 in 2019, and the crowds of star-gazers on King Street will be replaced by a virtual red carpet. Panels from the industry conference have been moved entirely online.

There will also be an economic impact from having a scaled-down version of the festival, as theatres will be operating at a fraction of what they normally would. In a typical year, the festival generates more than $200-million in economic activity for the City of Toronto and the province of Ontario.

But to show film lovers that the festival’s mission remains the same amidst all these changes, TIFF worked on a pro-bono basis with agency Huge on messaging based around the idea of “to be continued.” The campaign features copy like “Whatever seat you’re in, being on the edge of it is to be continued.” A manifesto video shows all the other constants in TIFF’s world, like a relentless curation of quality films and that “Toronto is a multicultural representation of the world,” where people want to premiere their films.

TIFFTBCThe “to be continued” push can currently be seen outside the Bell TIFF Lightbox and, closer to the festival start date, will be used to brand festival venues and the Bell Digital Cinema. Creative will also be seen before all film screenings as part of the festival’s pre-show, as well as in online ads, social channels and OOH. Rebel & Thorn is handling the media buy.

Matt Di Paola, managing director of Huge, was an ex-officio board member, volunteer and a member of fundraising committees for TIFF from 1997 to 2002. He tells strategy that TIFF called several former members of the festival’s board to help strategize what the event should look like during an unprecedented year like 2020.

As a result, a digital advisory committee was formed featuring digital experts who volunteered their time to help guide the festival in creating the virtual version it has planned for Sept. 10. Di Paola says part of the goal around Huge’s work with TIFF was to, simply, let people know that the festival was still going on in a year when many high-profile events have had to cancel.

But TIFF’s mission is “to transform the way people see the world through film,” giving it an important role in culture. It also has a prominent role within the industry, as TIFF is generally seen as the kickoff to awards season, with numerous high-profile movies and Oscar contenders getting their premiere there every September.

That’s why, when other film festivals like SXSW and Tribeca partnered with streaming services like Amazon Prime Video and YouTube, TIFF and the advisory knew that would not be enough, and it needed to do something more unique and ownable to maintain its position.

“We didn’t want to do that. We need[ed] to go out [and say] TIFF is still here and true to who it is going to be. We are still going to launch the stories and the voices that are important, and set the tone for the festival season and for the award season,” Di Paola says.

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