Movie fans were eager to gather for the Toronto International Film Festival after several pandemic lockdowns, according to CEO Cameron Bailey.
“People just wanted to gather in Toronto. We had so many lockdowns and openings and then further lockdowns and I think the fact that we were inviting people to come together in large numbers, for those who were ready for it, they flocked to it,” Bailey said on Jan. 25.
Canadian journalist Paul Wells sat down with Bailey for a podcast taping at the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto. The two reminisced on their university days together at the University of Western Ontario and discussed what’s like running a prestigious film festival in a post-pandemic world, in which streaming has disrupted the way people experience stories.
In 2020, the film festival had taken place in a vastly different format during the heart of the pandemic. with most showings taking place online.
Bailey discussed how TIFF needed to revive a sense of community in order for people to want to come back and enjoy gathering in large groups after the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It was a festival that had to be defined by whether people would come back. And by people I mean, our audience, first of all, because many people had gotten used to doing other things,” Bailey said.
“We had to understand whether people would still value seeing a movie first at its premiere and seeing it with the artists who made the movie. Turns out they did.”
Looking ahead, Bailey said that the film festival is looking to strengthen the in-person moviegoing experience.“I still think that should be what we focus on and that’s what I’m trying to drive our strategy towards,” he said.
In 2022, TIFF returned to the streets of Toronto, closing down King Street West in the downtown core. The first four days of the festival alone saw 400,000 people in attendance which Bailey described as being “remarkable.”