The rise in streaming services due to COVID-19 begs the question of what will kill cinema, yet Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) CEO Cameron Bailey feels secure in its future, saying it’s more than a delivery system.
Journalist Paul Wells sat down with Bailey on Jan. 25 at the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto for a podcast interview about the future of film and the effects of COVID-19 on the industry.
Bailey describes being in “year two of a three-year strategic plan” that was developed during the COVID-19 pandemic, when movie audiences were largely stuck at home.
But Bailey values the in-person experience, finding that watching films together heightens emotions because of the social human nature of experiencing something bigger together.
“If we don’t have people gathering together, if we’re not encouraging that, then we don’t have a purpose,” said Bailey.
“I still think that there’s something unique and irreplaceable about the in-person experience and the whole experience. Not just sitting in a movie together and feeling something, but going out of your house and lining up with other people who have made the same choices as you, and then having that shared experience, and then having a shared reaction afterwards.”
When the world changed in 2020, film production was put on hold, release dates were pushed back, and the public moviegoing experience was largely lost. Despite this, the industry remained lucrative by pushing films through streaming services, and TIFF did just that. In September 2020, it created a festival of drive-in movies, physical distance theatres, and at-home viewings.
“We still had a festival to play and we made it a primarily virtual festival. We discovered drive-ins…We had to invent our own digital streaming platform in about two months’ time. So we did that and somehow we were able to put on the festival,” said Bailey.
In 2022, TIFF made its in-person comeback, holding a four-day in-person festival gathering around 400,000 people in downtown Toronto. It was proof for Bailey that people still value “seeing a movie first at its premiere.”