When it was launched in 1976 as the Toronto Festival of Festivals, there was no way to predict the future Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) would become the film industry giant it is today. However, through rebranding efforts, increases in size, recognition, and importance TIFF has sometimes struggled to keep its Brand Promise: “TIFF is dedicated to presenting the best of international and Canadian cinema to film lovers.” – tiff.net
Brand Promise Struggles
Through all the growth and changes that TIFF has experienced in their 40 plus years, the brand promise has sometimes seemed to be forgotten. The effort to become the biggest and brightest film festival in the industry chipped away at the community festival feel that was originally promised. The Toronto Festival of Festivals was founded as an opportunity to share great cinema with Canadian movie lovers, not to parade Hollywood blockbusters out on the red carpet.
TIFF has a reputation for showing award-winning films, and for starting the buzz that surrounds them. The brand is happy to tout that reputation, leaning on it whenever criticism is levied against them. However, the recent editions of the festival have seemed more like a numbers game, and with a gigantic list of feature films on the schedule, some of them are bound to be good.
In 2014 there were 366 features on the TIFF schedule, in 2016 the number was 296. Those numbers don’t speak to exclusivity or curation; they speak to large numbers of screenings (more than 1,200 in 2016) and an effort to sell as many tickets as possible.
However, the TIFF saw a drop in attendance in 2016, from 383,970 to 381,185, for the first time in recent memory. Curation, accessibility, and ticket prices have all been attributed to the drop in attendees.
All of these missteps are classic forms of breaking that original brand promise.
Getting Back to the Brand Promise
Whether it was a direct result of criticism by outlets like Variety or a decision that came to TIFF naturally, 2017 will see fewer films, screenings, and theatres involved in the festival.
The 2017 edition of the Toronto Film Festival will feature 20 percent fewer films than 2016, and will drop both the Isabel Bader Theatre and Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema from the schedule. That reduction of approximately 60 films should allow for TIFF to get back to its promise of providing the best Canadian and International cinema with tighter curation, rather than splashing screens with as many films as possible.
And while the opening night selection of Borg/McEnroe, (a tennis drama centred on the tennis rivlarly from nearly 40 years ago) has some people wondering if TIFF has turned the corner at all, others are quick to point out that it’s not as much of a sell-out as the Hollywood star-filled remake of The Magnificent Seven that opened the 2016 festival.
Some TIFF ticket prices have also been adjusted. In an overt effort to court younger viewers, TIFF is offering a new weekday ticket ($10 – $18) to anyone 25 and under, in hopes of encouraging more young adults to attend screenings. There are also a variety of passes and packages that can make the per-ticket price much lower during the festival. However, many Torontonians, and film lovers who make the trip to the city, still have concerns with pricing. Regular tickets for evening and weekend screenings range from $28 to $35, with premium tickets running $52 to $59, making TIFF an expensive night out at a time when box office numbers are dropping.
If “TIFF is dedicated to presenting the best of international and Canadian cinema to film lovers,” they have to be prepared to do it through their programming and pricing with better film choices, more accessible price points, and a dedication to being the festival that film lovers in Toronto want to support.