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Toronto Festival Returns to In-Person Event

Hanif Harji runs Figo, an Italian joint a block away from the heart of the Toronto International Film Festival. Over the years, he’s had a chance to see a lot of A-listers in their element. There was that time Bill Murray started a conga line, or the evening when Joaquin Phoenix stepped outside to take a puff of a cigarette while basking in the glow of the “Joker” premiere.

But that was a long time ago. Since COVID, TIFF has operated as a shell of its former self, with either virtual editions or festivals that unspooled at limited capacity. 

This year, though, the party is back. For the first time since 2019, TIFF is expected to have a full slate. For local restaurants, bars and hotels, those packed screenings and star-studded red carpets mean big business. Harji and his counterparts in Toronto are eager for the festival to return in all its loud, glittering glory. The 47th edition runs from Sept. 8-18.

“In the 10 days [of the festival], we have five restaurant buyouts, which is quite exciting,” says Harji, the CEO of Scale Hospitality, which owns 11 restaurants in the area. “On the days we don’t have buyouts, we have a lot of reservations.” 

And Figo isn’t the only venue looking to cash in on the return of in-person festival season. The gathering of creative minds that attracts around 500,000 people a year is the reason Soho House set its sights on Toronto about a decade ago. Since 2010, Soho House Toronto has become the choice establishment for stars like Jennifer Lawrence, Leonardo DiCaprio and Nicole Kidman to enjoy cocktails in the club’s baronial splendor while waiting for the reviews to hit. But in 2021, Soho House shelved the large parties that were its stock-in-trade, instead resorting to socially distanced dinners for 30 people.

“It was definitely lacking last year,” says Markus Anderson, Soho House’s chief membership officer. “I went to a couple of premieres, and the red carpet had three reporters instead of hundreds. A lot of talent didn’t come. There were great films, but it was pared down.” 

This year, TIFF will host the world premiere of Gina Prince-Bythewood’s historical epic “The Woman King,” starring Viola Davis; Rian Johnson’s murder-mystery sequel “Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery,” with Daniel Craig returning as detective Benoit Blanc; Steven Spielberg’s coming-of-age story “The Fabelmans”; “My Policeman,” a 1950s drama about a closeted police officer played by Harry Styles; and Billy Eichner’s romantic comedy “Bros.”  Many of those films are backed by major companies, including Universal, Netflix and Sony Pictures; some, such as Florian Zeller’s “The Son,” will come straight from Venice.

But plenty of other buzzy releases head to Toronto in the hope of securing distribution, and there’s no better way to wow a potential buyer than a screening filled with laughter or tears. Compared with Cannes and…

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