Look, TIFF 2020 is super weird. A huge part of this festival is meeting up with fellow cinephiles from all over the world, and we all know why that’s not happening.
Still, while it was more a challenge than normal knowing how to navigate the fest, there were many opportunities to screen films in-person while complying with social-distancing requirements, including outdoor screenings local drive-in facilities.
Thanks to one of TIFF’s sponsors I was treated to a rental car and a ticket to attend last night’s screening of Pieces of a Women. The experience was… different, but thanks to welcoming staff it felt for a brief moment like the collective experience we all miss tremendously.
A splashy intro
Right from the outset the TIFF team has done well to make the experience feel special. At Skyline you drive through an illuminated portal, where you’re then handed a goodie bag filled with chips, bottles of water and some cookies.
The long view
The ticket I was provided was row T, slot 10. This was the absolute back of the venue, and the screen felt impossibly far away for this patron who really cares about seating location.
Bright lights, big city
The view of the stage with Toronto’s skyline in the background from all the drive-in venues certainly provides a unique vantage point that makes for good if controversial IG posts.
The image is not presented on a traditional projection screen but instead some tech grabbed from one of those closed down nightclubs, with a video wall repurposed to provide a vibrant and bright (if slightly posterized) image.
Close to the edge
Thanks to some extremely kind and cheerful workers we were “upgraded” in our seats, migrated from the very back row to the very front. The viewing angles in the car necessitated a slightly askew parking job, but the end result was no one in front of us to view the film.
The Show Must Go On
Just before showtime festival artistic director/co-head Cameron Bailey emerged mask-on, stood at the dais and introduced the film just as he has hundreds of times at Lightbox, The Elgin, Princess of Wales and all the other regular TIFF venues. After a brief video intro by the film’s director heard through our car’s FM radio, the film began.
Obviously the experience wasn’t anywhere near as impactful as a screening at a regular cinema, but frankly just to get out and be surrounded by other cinephiles was a welcome change from being buried in my basement home theatre.
This is all a compromise due to COVID, of course, but in so many ways the TIFF and venue staff made the whole experience as enjoyable as possible, from moving us up to providing good facilities and even opportunities for in-car dining.
Drive-ins are traditionally places shlocky b-films where worrying about things like plot and character are secondary to the experience. Viewing something a little more austere and bleak at the venue is surreal enough, yet it reminded if briefly how enjoyable it is to enjoy TIFF with a crowd, even one cloistered in their own vehicles.