The Toronto International Film Festival started off on a historic day with one of its strongest opening films in years in Sally El Hosaini’s ‘The Swimmers’, but what some audience members will likely remember is the stressful experience of securing their tickets for the Roy Thomson Hall world premiere.
TIFF, which has gone digital again this year via Ticketmaster, has been plagued with ticketing issues all week thanks to a complicated voucher process for public tickets, reports ‘Variety’.
While it was hoped that many of the technical kinks would be ironed out by opening night, this wasn’t the case.
Media outlets, including Variety, that were meant to receive opening night tickets from the film’s studio — in this case, Netflix — didn’t get them in time for the screening due to “technical glitches” and had to be rounded up and escorted to their seats by representatives for the streamer.
During the festival’s opening ceremony, new festival CEO Cameron Bailey briefly paid tribute to Queen Elizabeth II in much the same way as he did at the film’s earlier 5 p.m. screening.
“I want to acknowledge the passing today of her majesty, Queen Elizabeth II. Our thoughts go out to everyone here and around the world mourning her loss,” said Bailey.
The death of the British monarch on Thursday cast a shadow over the opening of TIFF, particularly as the Queen was Canada’s head of state and largely beloved by locals, but the festival doesn’t seem to have changed its plans in any significant way.
When asked whether TIFF might commemorate the Queen in some form, the festival told Variety on Thursday evening that “at this moment, there is no information that we can share on that matter”.
That’s not to say, though, that the 96-year-old’s death hasn’t interrupted proceedings: Bailey said during the brief ceremony that Neil Lumsden, Ontario’s minister of tourism, had to cancel his plans to attend the festival because the “government is paying respect to the Queen’s death”.
Meanwhile, flags in Toronto flew at half-mast and public broadcaster CBC reported that the CN Tower’s lights had also dimmed in her honor. The Queen visited Toronto seven times between 1957 and 2010.
Elsewhere, Bailey honored the legacy of late director-producer, Ivan Reitman, with a montage of famous Canadian movies, such as “Ghostbusters” and “Kindergarten Cop”, and thanked him for “giving TIFF a home”.
The Reitman family donated the land in downtown Toronto for the construction of the festival’s year-round headquarters, the TIFF Bell Lightbox.
Bailey later introduced Netflix’s ‘The Swimmers’ as “one of my favorites of this year” and described the film as a pertinent “story of migration and forced migration”.
Helmed by ‘My Brother the Devil’ director El Hosaini, ‘The Swimmers’ tells the true story of sisters Yusra and Sara Mardini, who, while fleeing Syria for Europe, helped their fellow refugees get to Greek shores by swimming alongside their boat. Yusra Mardini would later go on to compete in the Rio Olympics as part of the Refugee team.
“For many of us who came to this country, ‘The Swimmers’ will touch you and remind you of what people will risk,” said Bailey.
El Hosaini introduced her film by thanking the TIFF audience and programming team for “showing what this festival and city stands for.”
She was joined on stage by Working Title co-founders Eric Fellner and Tim Bevan, producer Ali Jaafar, writer Jack Thorne, and her cast, including James Krishna Floyd, the movie’s young stars, Manal Issa and Nathalie Issa, and the Mardini sisters.
The festival runs from September 8-18.