Big Screen, Small Screen: The Toronto International Film Festival Goes Hybrid

Convening Leaders 2021 speaker Cameron Bailey explains how organizers turned an international film festival into a record-breaking hybrid event.

Author: Kate Mulcrone       

Cameron Bailey

Cameron Bailey, artistic director of the Toronto International Film Festival, will explain how TIFF pivoted to a hybrid event in 2020 during a Friday session at Convening Leaders.


FIND THE SESSION: Going Digital: Transforming TIFF in an Unprecedented Year

The Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) celebrated its 45th anniversary last September with a first: a hybrid festival that combined socially distanced film screenings for more than 118,000 people with two streaming platforms that drew a digital audience of approximately the same size — breaking attendance records. TIFF’s artistic director Cameron Bailey, who oversaw production of the 10-day hybrid festival, will talk about the planning process and the decisions he and his team made along the way at Convening Leaders 2021, at 1:15 a.m. SGT (Singapore), 6:15 p.m. CET (Berlin), and 12:15 p.m. EST (New York).

Typically, Bailey and his team travel the world to find films, but that process played out a little differently in 2020 with everyone working from home. The planning team realized early on that many potential attendees were also housebound and used it as opportunity to build their audience in the weeks and months leading up to the festival with a film program called Stay at Home Cinema, a partnership with Bell Media’s Canada-based streaming service Crave. The TIFF team also recruited actors and directors from around the world to record 30-second videos to generate buzz ahead of the event.

During the 10-day festival, TIFF screened 61 feature films on six screens, choosing venues where social distancing could be strictly enforced. TIFF also staged more than 100 outdoor, socially distanced film screenings where attendees could have drinks and snacks delivered to them at their seats — an experience was so engaging for attendees that TIFF plans to continue hosting outdoor screenings even after the pandemic ends.

One of their goals was to make the remote viewing experience just as compelling as in-person film screenings, and TIFF created a second streaming platform where some 5,000 industry professionals and journalists watched films and talks from their homes or offices. And — another first for the 45-year-old festival — TIFF’s annual awards ceremony was broadcast on Canadian national television.

Kate Mulcrone is a New York City–based freelance writer.

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