TIFF is going to look completely different this year due to Hollywood strikes

Sep 5 2023, 2:57 pm

As the WGA strike enters its fourth month, with the screenwriters joined by the actors of SAG a short time later, the labour crisis in Hollywood shows no signs of abating.

Negotiations are sparse at best, and the result has been a great deal of confusion and consternation.

The effect of the dispute has global ramifications for the entertainment world with the Toronto Film Festival being no exception.

After a challenging few years with the pandemic dramatically reshaping the scope of the event, this is another layer of challenge for programmers and organizers alike to contend with.

What is unchanged at TIFF 2023?

TIFF has always focused on international cinema, with some 70% of productions outside of the scope of the strike.

Canadian films for the most part are unaffected, meaning that this important showcase for local talents continues unabated. Additionally, there are many independent films outside the structure of the striking parties.

Furthermore, there are other smaller studios that have agreed in principle with the demands of the strikers, having signed interim agreements and thus having the talent from these works granted waivers to participate in promotional opportunities like festivals.

What has changed for TIFF 2023?

First of all, there are no press conferences this year. While at places like Cannes, Berlin and Venice, where these events regularly drive the news cycle, this is hardly a major blow to TIFF’s esteem and is unlikely to have been tied to the strike.

Meanwhile, while the vagaries of these union agreements are well articulated, the optics of the situation are such that many simply will not be attending the festival.

Many Hollywood stars showed up this week in Italy for Venice premieres but are skipping Toronto for reasons that are not super clear, save for the fact that showing up for the actual premiere may be more justifiable than coming for a second or third screening after a Venice/Telluride launch.

TIFF will be showcasing actors as directors

In a clever move, TIFF has leaned into showcasing films directed by famous stars.

This isn’t so much an end-run around any strike mandate, but simply a fact that the director’s guild settled before a strike, and that these individuals who wear both acting and directing hats are allowed under the labour agreements to promote their work.

The inclusion of these films seems to be a major decider about this year’s slate, and festival CEO and head programmer Cameron Bailey has been championing these films in particular.

The likes of Anna Kendrick, Viggo Mortensen, Ethan Hawke, Kristin Scott Thomas, Chris Pine and Finn Wolfhard are all here with titles they’ve directed, but it remains uncertain just who will be in town to present their premieres, with the current list of attendees only showing about half of them committed to coming to town.

The red carpet won’t be what it usually is

While many are strictly focused on what’s projected on the screen rather than what takes place on the red carpet, there’s no doubt that thousands of fans flock to TIFF simply for a chance to spot famous people in glamorous outfits waving to the crowds and bringing real star power to this town.

While many of these actors could potentially get waivers to attend, it’s seemingly just easier to not have to explain oneself and choose to simply stay home this year and let the films do the talking.

So while Sean Penn and Viggo Mortensen will likely be on hand, Nicholas Cage and Jessica Chastain seem to be maybes at best, and there is confirmation that powerhouses like Cate Blanchett, Jessie Buckley, Olivia Colman, Chris Pine, Al Pacino and Robert De Niro will not be making the trek to Toronto.

TIFF is bringing in the musicians

If the stars of the big screen can’t make it, another option is to highlight those from the world of music.

This, of course, isn’t such a stretch — Taylor Swift was here last year playing a 35 mm print of a music video, and the festival has long been a showcase for exemplary music docs.

This year’s hottest ticket may be for a 40-year-old film, with the promised reunion of Talking Heads at the Stop Making Sense screening hosted by Spike Lee celebrating Jonathan Demme’s masterful film.

Then there are the likes of Paul Simon, Lil Nas X (in a late addition), and Nickelback set to be celebrated, with the latter even doing a concert on King Street for fans of the band so many love to hate.

TIFF will be celebrating talent in other ways

The closing film of the festival is a gala presentation of Sly, the highly anticipated Netflix doc about Sylvester Stallone. In addition to the glitzy showcase, there will be an “In conversation” session with the iconic action star.

Other similar events are with international icon Andy Lau, and Korean superstars Lee Byung-hun and Park Seo-jun. They join the likes of director Pedro AlmodĂłvar in these interview sessions that often provide memorable highlights from the festival.

What the future holds for movies at TIFF

The real challenge for TIFF may not be fully evident until a year from now. One major effect of the strike is that new productions have ground to a halt.

While we’re still seeing many pandemic-era productions enter the pipeline this year (coincidentally, the lockdown has been cited by several of these actors-turned-directors as a motivating factor to go behind the lens), it’s in 2024 that we’re likely to find a dearth of American films to choose from, which may dramatically affect the landscape even more so than it has this season.

As of now, the strike shows no sign of abating, and while many believe it will be settled by the end of the year, this could well run into next year, and the increasing animosity in an already fragile industry could have consequences that last for decades to some.

Many see this strike as an existential battle for the creative art of writing and acting within the Hollywood system, and time will tell whether things can continue to flourish once agreements are solidified.

The Hollywood strike will loom over TIFF 2023

Suffice it to say, the strike is a major talking point for any fan of cinema, and its shadow looms large over this year’s TIFF.

Yet the dispute shouldn’t be an excuse to avoid filmmakers and talent from territories outside of Hollywood, nor should one second-guess the motivations of those who have been granted waivers in order to be here to help bring attention to their projects.

We have seen this week at Venice and Telluride that festivals can provide enormous amplification for the messaging of the strikers, and TIFF may in fact be the ultimate place for the voices of the writers and stars to be allowed to be heard during this challenging time.

At the very least, TIFF looks to provide 10 days for you to explore the world of cinema, find emerging stars to fall in love with, and support talents that may be unfamiliar to those focused strictly on the Hollywood ecosystem.

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