Toronto Film Festival scales back with virtual red carpets, outdoor screenings

Jake Coyle
The Associated Press
Jennifer Lopez arrives for the premiere of "Hustlers" during Toronto International Film Festival on Sept. 7, 2019.

NEW YORK – Toronto International Film Festival, one of the leading launching pads for Oscar contenders, on Wednesday announced plans for a smaller 2020 edition with virtual red carpet premieres and drive-in screenings.

The festival, held annually in early September, is typically a sprawling city-wide affair that hosts 250 to 400 films and the debuts of many of the fall movie season's top releases. Because of the pandemic, organizers say this year's festival will be contingent on the go-ahead from Ontario health officials. 

But for now, TIFF (Sept. 10-19) is radically remaking itself. The normal 10 days of festival-going will be halved, at least in physical screenings. For the festival's first five days, it will present socially distanced screenings of premieres, including drive-ins and outdoor screenings. 

For the first time, TIFF will also roll out a platform of digital screenings and talks that will span the full 10 days of the festival. 

It remains possible that international travel to Canada will be prohibited for the film industry. The U.S.-Canada border is closed to nonessential travel through at least July 21. 

Ranked:All the best films we saw at the 2019 Toronto Film Festival

Disney-owned theaters? Masks with your ticket?Moviegoing could look quite different post-pandemic

"The pandemic has hit TIFF hard, but we've responded by going back to our original inspiration: to bring the very best in film to the broadest possible audience," says Cameron Bailey, co-head and artistic director. "Our teams have had to rethink everything, and open our minds to new ideas."

On Wednesday, the festival announced 50 films in its lineup, with plans to add more But the selections – including Francis Lee's "Ammonite," Thomas Vinterberg's "Another Round" and Ricky Staub's "Concrete Cowboy" – are a fraction of TIFF's typical lineup. Last year's festival included the world premieres of "Knives Out," "Jojo Rabbit," "Harriet," "A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood" and "Just Mercy," among many others. 

No major film festival has been held since the global onset of COVID-19. France's Cannes Film Festival, Austin's SXSW and New York's Tribeca Film Festival have all been shut down and forced to improvise. Cannes went ahead with a selection announcement, to help celebrate the movies it had intended to screen. SXSW screened participating films on Amazon Prime for a week. 

When the Academy Awards recently postponed the Oscars ceremony by two months, the calendar also shifted for the big fall festivals, including those in Venice and Telluride. Should an even somewhat normal awards season proceed, the September run of those three festivals doesn't align as well with an April 25 awards show.

Coronavirus postponements:Oscars delayed two months until April by COVID-19

Will we ever go to movie theaters again?We have answers