SARS jars Toronto fest

City says operating normally

TORONTO — Industryites in Toronto are working to allay fears that the SARS virus could be a threat to visiting cast, crew and fest-goers.

The Hot Docs documentary festival, one of North America’s largest, issued a release early in the week confirming that it has received inquiries about SARS.

“Despite what you might be reading, the city is operating normally, and the festival’s 10th anniversary planning continues,” says the release. Fest unspools April 25-May 4. Fest director Chris Macdonald told Daily Variety there had been a handful of inquiries and three cancellations, adding that numbers so far are “pretty consistent” with other years. But he admitted the SARS scare was “not going to help our attendance.”

Toronto is the hardest hit city in North America by the potentially deadly virus, with close to 240 probable or suspected cases and 13 deaths attributed to the disease.

An outbreak in two Toronto-area hospitals has led to a virtual shut-down in all community health care facilities in the province of Ontario; elective surgery has been cancelled, visits are restricted, and any visitors who are allowed in must disinfect their hands and wear surgical masks.

However, producers and production managers are reporting that the scare has not had any significant effect on business.

The occasional masked germophobe can be spotted on the streets or the public transit system and one production set reportedly had to be built when a local hospital nixed lensing.

Lisa Marie Presley canceled a promotional visit to a Toronto TV station, citing concerns about the disease.

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