Entertainment

Toronto International Film Festival group lays off 31 full-time staffers

Organizers of the Toronto International Film Festival have announced they are laying off 31 employees, a 17 per cent cut of the organization's full-time staff, due to the coronavirus pandemic.

'TIFF employees are respected team members and this is a heartbreaking decision,' say co-heads

Organizers of the Toronto International Film Festival have announced the layoff of 31 employees, representing a 17 per cent cut in its full-time staff, due to the coronavirus pandemic. (Michael Wilson/CBC)

Organizers of the Toronto International Film Festival have announced they are laying off 31 employees, a 17 per cent cut of the organization's full-time staff, due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The decision is in response to the "devastating" impact COVID-19 has had on regular operations, co-heads Joana Vicente and Cameron Bailey said in a statement issued Tuesday.

"We wish there was another way," they said. "All TIFF employees are respected team members and this is a heartbreaking decision."

The company, which hosts a prestigious annual film festival every September and screens movies and offers other programming year-round, has forecasted its 2020 revenue will be 50 per cent less than 2019. 

Tuesday's announcement comes after TIFF cut 15 employees in November after what it called "a comprehensive review" of its five-year strategic plan.

Mahershala Ali greets fans at the Toronto International Film Festival in Sept. 2018. In addition to the two-week annual festival each September, TIFF offers movie screenings and other programming year-round. (Reuters)

To aid with its current financial difficulties, the company has enacted a host of measures, according to the statement. These include cutting salaries at the executive, senior management and management levels, cancelling discretionary projects, reducing expenses, launching a new fundraising campaign and tapping into the federal pandemic wage subsidy where applicable.

"The pandemic has had a huge impact on every Canadian organization that welcomes audiences in large numbers. With our cinemas at TIFF Bell Lightbox temporarily closed since March, our festival affected by restrictions on travel and large gatherings and a projected slow return to normal, TIFF has felt these effects," Vicente and Bailey said.

"As a non-profit organization, we carefully considered how to manage the loss to our operating budget, while preserving as many jobs as possible and ensuring a sustainable business model."

No guarantee of 2020 red carpet return

During the pandemic, TIFF has been directing its patrons to screen titles virtually as part of their Stay-At-Home cinema series with online streamer Crave. Speaking with Variety in April about plans for this fall, co-heads Bailey and Vicente were bullish about the future of TIFF's actual festival, the biggest of its kind in Canada, an event drawing visitors from around the globe and a typical marker of the start of each year's Oscar race. 

However, with the Oscars now postponed until April and most film festivals experimenting with a digital approach, there's no guarantee of a physical return to TIFF's red carpets this fall. 

In previous interviews, Vicente mentioned the potential for a "hybrid" festival, with a mix of digital offerings and physical distancing in-person. But with the impending start date (initially set for Sept. 10) less than three months away and COVID-19 cases on the rise in several countries worldwide, the uncertainty facing the industry continues.

Also, with most of the province of Ontario currently in Stage 2 of COVID-19 reopening plans, indoor movie theatres — including the TIFF Bell Lightbox — remain closed. 

In a joint statement, Toronto International Film Festival co-heads Cameron Bailey, left, and Joana Vicente called the staff layoffs 'a heartbreaking decision.' (Nigel Hunt/CBC)

With files from Eli Glasner

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

now