After three years of bringing its moto-movie message to the GTA, the Toronto Motorcycle Film Festival is expanding online—and you can thank COVID-19.

The 2017-2019 film festivals were held at the Revue Cinema in Toronto’s Roncesvalles Village neighbourhood, and the plan for 2020 was to continue business as usual. Then COVID-19 hit, followed by social distancing regulations and public shutdowns. 

For a while, festival creative director Caius Tenche says he didn’t even know if this year’s festival could go ahead. But now, the constantly-shifting pandemic regulations have changed enough to allow the festival to run again at the Revue, with social distancing measures in place. 

“The tagline for this year is ‘There’s no stopping a great story.’ I love the stories that come out of the films, and I love the story that, despite the pandemic, we’re still moving forward,” says Tenche.

But things will look different:”Seating capacity will be limited in the theatre, so it won’t be a full theatre like before,” Tench says. So, the festival has partnered with Eventive, a streaming platform that handles on-demand and livestream content. Over this year’s 10-day festival (Oct. 1-10), all the festival’s catalogue will be available online, as well as interactive chats and Q&As with the filmmakers. Viewers can watch via Eventive’s native TV viewing apps (Apple TV, Roku, Android TV), or watch through web browsers on computers and mobile devices.

If you want to watch all the films in-theatre, that won’t be possible this year. Previous festivals had more than one film session per day, with an afternoon showing stuffing in a feature and maybe a couple of shorts, followed by another feature and more shorts in an evening session. Now, because of pandemic measures, organizers wouldn’t have enough time to clean the theatre between showings. Currently, the plan is to only run showings for a select few films October 1-3 at the Revue, with the remaining seven days allowing for online-only viewing.

Having said that, Tenche says there’s a possibility of adding more viewings at the Revue, depending on ticket sales. “If we do sell out on those in-theatre screenings, we are looking at ways to maybe continue that beyond the three days,” he says.

In the past, TMFF organizers have run “ride-in” movies in the summer, but Tenche says that wasn’t a possibility this time. Drive-in movie theatres in the GTA were too expensive to rent, and besides, current pandemic rules would have required all attendees to come by car.

Instead, the festival organizers decided to take the show online. They’ve already tested online viewing three times, through the TMFF Cinema Monthly Online Movie Nights. Tenche says they decided to go this route because TMFF organizers wanted to reconnect with the festival’s fans and friends, since they weren’t able to see anyone face-to-face over the summer. The online movie nights also worked as a learning tool, helping festival insiders figure out how to make online screening work, and to get a feel for the online experience.

“Part of the magic of a film festival is, you’re sharing the same time and space with other people. That’s what creates the magic,” says Tenche. “When you’re all in different parts of the city, looking at a much smaller screen, it’s a different feel to it. We wanted to see what that was like.”

On the first online event, the festival coordinated with National Canadian Film Day, showing two Canadian-made features and one short. Tenche says viewers really enjoyed the viewing, even though it was a different sort of movie-going experience.

“Not only were we watching the movies together online, but we were chatting online at the same time, he says. Tenche says that sounds weird at first, and some people thought the idea of “talking” during a film was a bad idea—and if the film was in a theatre, he’d agree.

“Online was a completely different experience,” he says. “They were using that online chat as a way to express emotion. Feedback from the audience was great … It really highlighted the fact that we were able to connect digitally and evoke some of that feeling we did in the theatre.”

There are three Canadian films at this year’s Toronto Motorcycle Film Festival. 

The Pilgrimage (2020)
Documentary, 13 minutes
“What happens when a group of women combine a motorcycle ride with a spiritual quest? Over two days on Vancouver Island, these women found out.”

Biker Bob’s Posthumous Adventure (2019)
Documentary, 18 minutes
When Bethany and Caleb Harding were walking along China Beach on Vancouver Island in 2016, the last thing they expected to find was a message in a bottle. It said, “Biker Bob. If you find me, turn me loose.” Also in the bottle: Bob’s ashes.

A Road Less Travelled (2019)
Documentary, 15 minutes
A 1,000 km trip into the North West Territories in the middle of winter on some of the wildest ice roads in Canada.

Of course, moving the movies online also allowed the festival to broaden its reach past Toronto, since these films aren’t geo-restricted (viewers can tune in from anywhere, not one specific geographic region). During the mid-summer online movie showings, Tenche says they have viewers tuning in from Newfoundland to British Columbia.

Not only does this help the filmmakers share their work with a broader audience, but it also connected the Toronto motorcycle community with a broader group of riders, he says. And, down the road, it may mean more Canadian films submitted to the festival—“Now that they can see them online, hopefully it does inspire them to create more content, create more stories or films that are Canadian, that reflect our history and our culture.”

However, things are improving on the CanCon front. This year, the festival had six Canadian submissions, the most ever, and three of them made the cut (see sidebar). 

There are 20 films in total this year, with subjects ranging from racing to enduro riding to travel to general lifestyle. You can see the whole film lineup here, exploring trailers and plot descriptions in-depth.

For now, the TMFF has a discounted $60 online festival pass; to purchase, or to look for other ticket details, visit the festival’s website. Remember, festivals like this take a lot of time and money, and the TMFF can always use your support. Tenche says they’ve landed new sponsors this year, and others are returning, and that’s been been a big help despite all the COVID-confusion. No matter how crazy this year has gotten, the festival is still going ahead.


Join the conversation!