Toronto Sees the Festival Experience Change

New apps and technologies are changing the Toronto Intl. Film Festival — and the way people experience it — in both significant and subtle ways.

Now that anyone with a high-end digital camera and a laptop can make a feature, then submit it inexpensively via Without a Box or instantly with a Vimeo screener, fest submissions have jumped 60% (to 5,671 films) since 2005, says TIFF artistic director Cameron Bailey. This led to a 24% jump in programmers (to 21) during the same period, and technology is also allowing audiences to catch up.

“Some filmgoers are now creating elaborate spreadsheets to decide what to see and maximize their time,” Bailey says. “With everyone gravitating toward the cloud, people can share these quickly.”
TIFF improved its own technology as well, installing an Artifax information processing system in 2011. It has provided a wider range of options and a larger capacity for tracking data on films and individuals, and allows better integration of this info with TIFF’s year-round programming and website. But, as Bailey and others note, the way information is now processed online is just as important.

“Hashtags are homing beacons,” says Ray Pride, news editor of Movie City News. “Twitter allows you to immediately contribute to the conversation, and maybe sway it.”

This can be crucial in the heat of a bidding war and, as Pride notes, doesn’t just give critics like himself, @aoscott and
@erickohn more influence — it allows such distribs as @A24Films to weigh in on the larger film culture. And instead of just letting movies define them, outfits like A24 can use Twitter to brand themselves as quality labels for cineastes.

Apps are also making it easier to experience TIFF on the go: Attendees can download the Daily Buzz podcast (soundcloud.com/daily-buzz) for interviews with celebs like Al Pacino, then pay bills at select restaurants with the new Toronto app Tab, saving crucial minutes before screenings and meetings.

To get them there, Uber’s Toronto g.m. Ian Black says the ride service is partnering with Indochino to dress many of its drivers in custom suits for TIFF, and enlisting a luxury automaker to provide some of its cars — not quite the Paris-to-Riviera private jet service it offered during Cannes, but a nice touch. Budget-conscious new users can get $25 in Uber credit when they book housing through Airbnb during TIFF — or they can just use map apps like Waze to walk to theaters.

One possible vision of TIFF’s future: at July’s Comic-Con, Nerd Machine’s Nerd HQ app gave access to select events for non-passholders and alerted users when additional tickets to panels became available.

But there are tech tales that advise caution: New York Comic Con faced a backlash last fall when it sent automatic tweets from some attendees’ accounts.

Whatever lies ahead, technology’s impact on festivals is just starting to really be felt.

“Everyone wants a customized experience now. I see people walking around wearing headphones, and it’s clear they want to curate their own content,” Bailey says. “That, I think, is the future. We need to figure out our role, because film festivals should still be shared experiences where people come together.”

Filed Under:

Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more