The Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) is certainly one of the most prolific of its kind, but this year, as it is set to happen amidst the most important strike the film industry has seen this century, it will not boast the same level of Hollywood lustre it has in previous years.
I, like many other folks interested in film, plan on attending this year’s festival and as much as I don’t care to admit it, much of the enthral lies within the possibility of seeing my favourite actors in the flesh. As a brief but very important caveat, I fully support the efforts of The Writers Guild of America (WGA) and The Screen Actors Guild and American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFRA) – especially as someone who aspires to become a screenwriter and director.
The WGA began striking prior to SAG-AFRA, with its main concern being that writers are undervalued and underpaid, while producers and big-time directors simultaneously draw in inflated paycheques and bolstered reputations. Much of this is due to changes that have arisen as a result of the increase in streaming (as opposed to people watching broadcast television). In fact, both unions are concerned with the streaming structure, part of which includes residuals. These payments are made to those in the entertainment industry in cases of streaming or re-runs, or even generative AI, and are calculated and administered by unions. The issue is that residuals payments are next to nothing. One might argue that the actors’ strike emboldens the efforts of the WGA – if people cannot see their favourite celebrity interview for their new movie, then they may be more inclined to care about the greater implications those behind the screen face.
The goals of the Hollywood labour disputes can be summarized with this quote from household name Jessica Chastain in an interview with Indiewire:
“[There’s] huge innovations in our industry, content has been incredible, streaming and amazing technology have made huge steps, and quickly. But difficult things like contracts haven’t kept up with the innovations that have been made, resulting in huge inequality…The industry has been so separated in terms of who is able to make a living and who isn’t.”
Here comes the question of TIFF’s status jaunting in. If Hollywood’s buzziest actors and tenured favourites aren’t walking the red carpet, what kind of audience will be drawn in to attend?
Some say that admission and ticket prices cannot remain as usual if the so-called main attractions are not in attendance. This is the position that Eric Tisch, the programming manager at REEL Canada, a non-profit dedicated to showing Canadian films in schools, takes.
TIFF is put in a unique position. On one hand, there are cultural implications: international and Canadian films that are outside of SAG territory are given an opportunity to be placed at the forefront – recalling that the festival is an international one. On the other hand, local businesses that typically rely on TIFF for a large portion of their annual income may suffer. This is the case for Rob Iafrate of A Celebrity Limousine Service in Toronto. However, he remains optimistic, telling The Hollywood Reporter, “We’re currently still in limbo, still awaiting confirmations. Should the strike continue, it would be a great disappointment, although nothing we can’t overcome.”
Some actors have applied for a waiver (select projects not affiliated with the major studios are permitted to continue filming or promote their film during the strike) from SAG-AFRA, such as Maya Hawke (who stars in Wildcat Daddio), Finn Wolfhard (co-director and main actor of Hell of a Summer), and Jessica Chastain (Memory). Other actors may or may not show – optics surely being a factor in their decisions.
Amidst all this, perhaps audiences will return their gaze to the screen, and just as TIFF aims to, “Transform…the way people see the world through film,” the industry will transform too.