TIFF 2021, Day 9: Festival confirms COVID case at press screening

News of a COVID case at a press and industry screening seems to indicate TIFF's protocols are working

And here we are, approaching the end of another Toronto International Film Festival. TIFF wraps up tomorrow, most of the international visitors have gone home, everyone’s exhausted and I’m pretty sure I’ve run out of ways to describe movies. I have a review of Clint Eastwood’s Cry Macho to write today, but thankfully that one won’t be terribly challenging.

So before I sputter out completely, let’s talk about the whole COVID thing. As you may have heard – and as The Hollywood Reporter reported yesterday – some TIFF attendees have been receiving alerts of possible COVID exposure at a handful of events last weekend, the result of someone attending three press and industry screenings at the Scotiabank and the press conference for the festival’s tribute awards at Roy Thomson Hall. (TIFF’s policy for press and industry requires proof of full vaccination or a negative test within 48 hours prior to attending an event.)

There was also at least one other alert sent around, tied to last Saturday afternoon’s public premiere of All My Puny Sorrows at the Princess of Wales. (A Toronto industry friend who attended the screening received an email from TIFF earlier this week.)

As you might recall, I’ve been avoiding all in-person TIFF events this year out of an excess of caution due to certain family responsibilities. But eight days into the festival, the fact that out of dozens of screenings and events we’ve only seen five instances of an attendee subsequently testing positive is a good thing, especially because at least four of those cases were the same individual.

Obviously we won’t have the full picture for another week or so, once we’re at the end of the incubation period, but from here it certainly looks like TIFF’s protocols are working. Testing and tracing is working, alerting people to get tested and isolate if they’re positive for the virus. And since fully vaccinated people have a far lower likelihood of contracting the virus when exposed, that means the festival’s vaccine policy is working too.

So, in summary: I don’t regret my decision not to attend TIFF 2021 in person, but seeing all this play out makes me believe TIFF 2022 might be able to function normally. That’d be nice. I miss people.

Screening today

After two digital screenings earlier in the week, Joachim Trier’s The Worst Person In The World finally gets a public performance tonight (5:30 pm, Roy Thomson Hall). I included it in NOW’s buzz list of festival titles, and I’m still dying to see it; Trier’s Reprise and Oslo, August 31st are perfectly formed, emotionally devastating character studies, and given that Renate Reinsve was named best actress at Cannes for this one, it sounds like Trier’s right back in his wheelhouse. There’s also that secret Steven Soderbergh picture (9:30 pm, Princess of Wales Theatre), which is the one remaining event I am gutted to be missing. I still hope it’s a LEGO Ocean’s movie.

I’ve also been hearing great buzz for Good Madam (8 pm, Cinesphere; available digitally at 9 pm), a South African psychological thriller rooted in the nation’s legacy of apartheid and colonialism. It’s the latest from South African filmmaker Jenna Cato Bass, whose High Fantasy was one of the best films I saw at TIFF 2017. (Her 2019 follow-up, the Western riff Flatland, was fine but overlong.) I’m really glad to see her land in the Platform program, and I hope the movie gets picked up for domestic distribution so I can catch up to it soon.

For a wild cinematic ride, there’s Israeli director Nadav Lapid’s Cannes Jury Prize winner Ahed’s Knee (available digitally at 5 pm). If Synonyms found Lapid running away from his home country’s problems, this film sees him sprinting directly toward them with a story about a filmmaker brushing up against state censorship while screening a controversial film in the Arava Valley. What could’ve been an insidery movie about filmmaking becomes a furious, flummoxing and elegiac experience through a mix of confusing close-up choreography, unexpected musical choices and smart casting. (NNNN) (KR)

Danish filmmaker Jonas Poher Rasmussen’s affecting and intimate biopic about his childhood friend, Amin (not his real name), screens again today as well. Flee (available digitally at 3 pm) recounts Amin’s journey as an asylum seeker who leaves Afghanistan in the 80s and embarks on a treacherous journey to Scandinavia. Pairing animation with Amin’s personal account – which he says he is telling in full for the first time ever – makes for a compelling watch, but it’s not until the focus shifts to the emotional repercussions of suppressing this tale, somewhat belatedly, that Flee really stands apart from other films covering similar ground. (NNN) (KR)

What to see tomorrow

The festival closes with Zhang Yimou’s drama One Second, but you’ll also have one more chance to catch two of the best Canadian films I saw at the festival  – Thyrone Tommy’s Learn To Swim (reviewed here) and Danis Goulet’s Night Raiders (reviewed here) – before the frenzy of the free screening of whatever wins the People’s Choice award. I still think The Eyes Of Tammy Faye has that locked down, but who knows anything anymore.


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