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Star-studded glitz will take a back seat to homegrown talent at this year’s TIFF

With the ongoing Hollywood actors' and writers' strikes, and the recent announcement that TIFF and lead sponsor Bell will be parting ways, this year's festival is expected to look quite different.

Hollywood strikes mean businesses have had to cancel events ahead of the festival due to lack of A-listers

A person walks past the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) Bell Lightbox in the Entertainment District of Toronto.

The Toronto International Film Festival might look quite different this year.

Set to begin Thursday, TIFF is typically a star-studded affair full of Hollywood A-listers. The festival brings more than 700,000 visitors to Toronto and accounts for more than $114 million in economic activity in the region, according to a 2022 report from FedDev Ontario.

"In many ways for North America, TIFF is the most important festival," said filmmaker and writer Brian D. Johnson, whose film The Colour of Ink premiered at TIFF last year. It's a significant gateway for international films to reach audiences in North America, he says.

But with the ongoing Hollywood actors' and writers' strikes, this year's event will have fewer stars in attendance. And that could have a significant impact on businesses in the city that rely on the festival and its stars to generate buzz and, of course, profits.

Fewer stars, less spending

During the strikes, members of the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) are restricted from promoting any film that's from a member of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP). That includes major film studios (Disney, Paramount, Sony, Universal and Warner Bros.), television networks (ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC) and streaming services like Netflix, Apple TV+ and Amazon.

However, directors and producers are unaffected by the strike — and some are allowed to walk red carpets. This year, several actor-turned-directors have films at TIFF, including Viggo Mortensen, Michael Keaton, Chris Pine and Anna Kendrick.

Further complicating things, SAG-AFTRA has launched an interim agreement program for certain independent movies being distributed by non-AMPTP members, which means they can promote films despite the strikes. But as TIFF begins, it's still unclear which films have been granted waivers. That lack of certainty means a lack of stars, something that TIFF and Toronto businesses are having to deal with.

"With the actors' strike in particular, Toronto's going to see a dip in revenue because there's all kinds of infrastructure and support services from hairdressers and limo drivers to restaurants," said Johnson, who wrote the book Brave Films, Wild Nights: 25 Years of Festival Fever, which highlights the history of TIFF.

Businesses in the city are already feeling that dip.

Charles Khabouth is the CEO of INK Entertainment Group. He owns and operates more than 20 venues in Toronto and says TIFF is one of their most important events.

"It's the most exciting time of year. It's a very crucial moment for us," said Khabouth, who just celebrated 40 years in business.

But with the ongoing strikes, Khabouth says he's already had to make adjustments.

"Usually at this time, we're beyond busy setting up because of the amount of events. Last year, I think we did north of 40 events in 10 days."

INK has already had to cancel multiple events for this year's festival, according to Khabouth.

Watch | Hollywood North fades:

Hits to Hollywood North deepen as writers and actors strikes drag on

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The screen actors and writers strikes have halted production on the vast majority of Hollywood productions in Canada. More than 90 per cent of film and TV workers are off the job with no end to the strikes in sight.

And it's not just venues that are feeling the effects of the strikes.

Rob Iafrate is the owner of A Celebrity Limousine Service in Toronto. He says TIFF is one of his biggest corporate events.

"[It's] hundreds of thousands of dollars potentially to be lost. It's definitely a big deal for us," he said.

Because of the size of the festival, Iafrate says, the company would typically need to outsource vehicles in addition to its own cars, creating work for an additional 10 to 20 other companies.

This year, that won't be happening.

A 'chance to shine'

Despite the uncertainty, both Khabouth and Iafrate say they're trying to view this year's festival as a unique opportunity.

"This year being quite different, I think, allows us to rethink things," said Khabouth. "We're able to turn a negative into a positive … and it'll be great to have more Canadian films and local actors."

With fewer celebrities hogging the spotlight, the focus will turn to independent artists, says Iafrate.

"There may be new and breaking-out artists to be found, and now's their chance to shine," he said.

It's something TIFF CEO Cameron Bailey has talked about as well.

"Canadian films and filmmakers always have a prominent place at our festival. But I think this year, they'll be even more prominent," he said during an interview with CBC News last month.

There will be 50 Canadian titles at this year's festival, including 21 features, 20 shorts, six documentaries and three television series, said TIFF's chief programming officer, Anita Lee.

Questions remain

In addition to the reduced star power, TIFF and lead sponsor Bell will be parting ways after this year. It's another cloud of uncertainty hanging over the festival. In 2022, corporate sponsorships accounted for $13.4 million, which amounted to 28 per cent of TIFF's total revenues.

"Over the past 28 years, TIFF and Bell have enjoyed a historic partnership," said Judy Lung, vice-president, public relations and communications at TIFF. "Earlier this year, we mutually agreed that this partnership would come to a close at the end of 2023."

Bell echoed the same sentiments when reached for comment, saying it opted not to renew its sponsorship with TIFF in order to invest in other opportunities. "We're grateful to have been a part of it," the company said in a statement emailed to CBC News.

In the meantime, the festival already has existing relationships with other companies, including Netflix.

In 2019, Netflix and TIFF signed a three-year agreement to have the streaming service financially support Canadian directors. And Netflix will premiere five films at this year's festival.

"Undoubtedly, there will be another lead sponsor stepping in to replace Bell," said Johnson.

"I really hope TIFF can come out of this. It may come out a bit leaner. It may come out a little bit less showbizzy, but you have to have that glitz, I think, to make a festival attractive."


Brock Wilson


Brock Wilson is a producer based in Toronto. He can often be found producing episodes for About That with Andrew Chang and writing stories for the web. You can reach him at brock.wilson@cbc.ca.

Credit belongs to : www.cbc.ca

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