The Toronto International Film Festival announced that its pared-down 2020 edition, which starts on Thursday (9/10), would be a mix of virtual and in-theater screenings at the city's Bell Lightbox cinemas. They're now facing criticism of their COVID safety policy, that states attendees must wear masks "at all times in TIFF Bell Lightbox, except when seated in-cinema."

The masks-optional-while-seated policy is definitely different than what is found in most US theaters currently, which requires masks worn at all times (masks can be lowered to take a drink or eat snacks). The Venice Film Festival, one of the few other fall fests that are still having indoor screenings, also requires masks worn at all times.

Toronto's city bylaws, however, state that "wearing a mask or face covering is required in indoor public spaces" including "entertainment facilities including concert venues, theatres, cinemas, casinos."

Despite outcry on social media (see below) and what Toronto's bylaws say, TIFF organizers tell The Hollywood Reporter, "they’re strictly following the advice of public health experts, which limits the Bell Lightbox venue to 50 socially distanced patrons per screen, among other safety precautions (the five Lightbox theaters can collectively seat more than 1,200 moviegoers)."

UPDATE: On Monday night, TIFF clarified/amended their policies: "For those inquiring about TIFF’s health and safety protocols for #TIFF20, we’ve been following public gathering by-laws set by the Province of Ontario, the City of Toronto, and public health officials, who we’ve been working closely with since the start of Festival planning. We’re aware of recent public health reports indicating an increase in COVID cases in the GTA. We have made the decision that for the safety and peace-of-mind of #TIFF20 patrons, TIFF Bell Lightbox will close its concession stands, eliminating a point of contact for patrons. As no food or beverage will be consumed on site, TIFF requires that masks are worn for the entirety of the time patrons are in TIFF Bell Lightbox, including while seated during screenings."

The slate for TIFF this year includes the Spike Lee-directed David Byrne's American Utopia on Broadway, Concrete Cowboy starring Idris Elba, new Werner Herzog documentary Fireball: Visitors from Darker Worlds, Regina King’s feature directorial debut One Night in Miami, and more.

David Byrne's American Utopia on Broadway debuts on HBO on Thursday, and Regina King's One Night in Miami is also playing at the virtual edition of the New Yorker Festival.

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