Toronto International Film Festival group lays off 31 full-time staffers
'TIFF employees are respected team members and this is a heartbreaking decision,' say co-heads
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.
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."
I would have been working at TIFF for 10 years come September. We’ve all always wanted the building to succeed. We accepted the low pay because we understood its financial constraints. It’s sad to see these layoffs. Wishing it a healthy come back.—@TOFilmReview
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.
With files from Eli Glasner