I'm often a bit more let down than excited when TIFF releases its final film schedule. Reality comes crashing in, and you realize that as big as TIFF is, it can show every film that you'd like to see. That being said, this year's self-absorbed disappointment (Many titles that I was eagerly anticipating, such as the Grandrieux, and the Miyazaki, are M.I.A..) is exacerbated by several other major and minor annoyances about changes the festival has apparently made.
There is now the dawning realization that as a loyal public passholder (7 years and counting), and devoted art film buff, the festival seems to be marginalizing me. The first annoyance came this year when I found out that many of the public screenings would be taking place at the new AMC 24 Theater, which is reportedly an all-digital venue. Obviously, the film industry is moving toward digital projection, but TIFF, as a premiere film festival, should be putting projection quality first, especially for its paying customers. It's possible that only films that aren't intended to be shown on prints (e.g. documentaries shot on digital) will be shown there, but I fear the worst.
Secondly, there's the announcement that the ticket lottery, which determines which films you're actually able to see, will now be prioritized, so that festival donors are given priority to their ticket choices. That obviously reduces the number of tickets available for the rest of pass holders. While that benefits the festival financially, it's galling, especially since as an out-of-town festivalgoer, I need to pay $150 extra to participate in the ticket lottery.
Worse still is the new restriction on my 50-Film Festival Pass that limits me from seeing premieres of films in either the Gala or Special Presentation sections of the festival. In the past, only the Gala Premieres were off-limits to passholders, which was a mild annoyance, but able to be scheduled around (there are only 20 or so Galas). New this year, passholders can no longer see Special Presentations at the Elgin theater. This is a huge limitation imposed on the most loyal and die-hard group of festivalgoers. It potentially affects a huge selection of the festival line-up... There are a whopping 51 Special Presentations scheduled this year! Unless additional public screenings of these films have been scheduled, this is a shameless cash grab on the part of the festival.
The situation with the Special Presentation pass restriction is exacerbated by the skimpiness of the lineups in the other sections of the festival, further limiting the options of passholders. In last year's "Masters" line-up, there were 19 films. This year there are 10. In last year's "Visions" sidebar, there were 21 films. This year there are 11. In last year's "Vanguards" selection, there were 18 films. This year there are 12. It can't be coincidental that these ailing programs tend to feature the festival's least commercial narrative works.
When combined with the festival's recent elimination the Directors' Spotlight, and the reduction of the Canadian Retrospective selection to a single, token film, these changes represent a systematic reduction of the least-commercial (and most culturally vital) aspects of the film festival. TIFF, for better or (mostly) worse, is rapidly becoming more and more of a media event than a celebration of films and filmmakers (and doing a bad job of it... few of this year's biggest Oscar contenders are showing). Obviously, there's still plenty to see at the festival, but the combination of these new initiatives should be serious cause for alarm among those who value TIFF as an opportunity to see films that can't be seen elsewhere.