Once upon a time, the Toronto International Film Festival was about showing movies. It’s time for a reboot.
“Our main product used to be film,” it says in a new five-year strategic plan, presented this week to TIFF board members. “Now, our main service must be transformative experiences through film.”
Used to be film? Isn’t that like the Toronto Blue Jays saying their main product used to be baseball?
What this means, say TIFF’s director/CEO Piers Handling and artistic director Cameron Bailey, is that in a diverse world rapidly moving online, it’s no longer enough to simply show movies at the fest’s September showcase and in its TIFF Bell Lightbox HQ at King and John Sts.
Facing an industry-wide decline in traditional movie attendance, TIFF hopes to find new ways to engage people, especially millennials, in the digital as well as physical realms. Grabbing eyeballs for the art house and independent productions that are a big part of TIFF’s offerings gets harder by the day as the world spins at the speed of smartphones and social media.
“It’s becoming increasingly more difficult,” Handling says, in an interview in his sunlit Lightbox office, which is decorated with his beloved collection of old movie posters.
“I just think that people’s viewing habits change. You’ve got a physical building here, but of course younger audiences are used to seeing things on tablets and phones.”
Adds Bailey: “There are so many more things calling our attention these days, whether it’s gaming, the rise of premium TV — all kinds of things.”
The “transformative experiences” TIFF refers to in its makeover manifesto, which is entitled Audience First: TIFF Strategic Plan 2018-2022, include boosting the emphasis on educational programs for all ages — from digiPlaySpace to adult learning — and expanding online services that fully exploit the festival’s vast curatorial expertise.
There’s urgency to this effort because, even though TIFF can boast of total attendance of 2.89 million people last year through paid, free and digital offerings, some crucial numbers have dipped:
Attendance at the September festival fell last year for the first time in recent memory, to 381,185 people from 383,970, a drop of nearly 2,800 people. Festival attendance used to regularly rise;
There’s been a much steeper drop in attendance at film screenings at the seven-year-old Lightbox: 130,585 moviegoers at the building’s five screens in 2016, compared to 179,653 in 2015, a drop of more than 49,000 people in just one year;
The festival has been forced to “hit the pause button,” Handling says, on shows in its main-floor exhibition space that have celebrated such pop-culture icons as James Bond, Andy Warhol, Stanley Kubrick, Grace Kelly and David Cronenberg. The exhibits are popular, but not enough to fully justify production and promotion costs exceeding $1 million per show.
These numbers are worrisome, but nobody’s panicking — and TIFF’s not alone in its audience and revenue concerns.
Source: The Star