The 2020 Toronto Motorcycle Film Festival (TMFF) almost didn’t happen. And when it did happen, it looked a lot different from years past—this year’s festival was online-only, because of COVID-19 restrictions. There were hopes to have some in-person shows, but that never happened, thanks to rising infection numbers in the GTA.
But, it did happen, unlike many other moto events. This year’s festival ran October 1-10, completely online, with awards handed out at the end (see the list at the end of the story). And, thanks to the new format, the TMFF actually had the opportunity to reach new viewers, maybe moving the festival into an all-new era. To find out more, we reached out to Caius Tenche, the festival’s founder and big boss.
CMG: This year’s TMFF was not geo-restricted, so people could watch from anywhere. Did you get significant viewership from other countries? What other countries joined in on this year’s fun?
Caius Tenche: While we did get viewership from other countries, places like the Austria, England, Germany, Italy, Scotland, Switzerland, and quite a bit from the USA, it wasn’t nearly as much as I hoped for. I chalk that up to a couple of things. It’s the first time we targeted audiences across the globe and it takes time to build awareness … The viewership across Canada was great though; in particular we had a lot of viewers tune in from Quebec, but we also had some join us from Alberta, BC, NB, Saskatchewan, even Yukon. The potential to connect with audiences across the globe and share films and stories with them is big.
CMG: Were more people able to watch the films this year, compared to past “in-person only” years?
CT: When the Festival was live, in-person at the theatre, attendance was restricted to those that lived in and around Toronto and southern Ontario, or a few that turned it into a weekend destination and travelled in for the event. Because of its digital nature, this year’s Festival allowed us to reach more people than before.
CMG: Were there any features or shorts shut out of the awards that surprised you? What about the winners—did any of them surprise you?
CT: The films that won awards definitely deserved the accolades; they were fantastic. One thing that stands out for me … is that the four of the five award winning films really didn’t have a lot of motorcycle footage, some almost none. The Best Short Film, and Best Canadian Film award winners, Reappear and Biker Bob’s Posthumous Adventure respectively, were such touching stories, and dare I say it, romantic. Bikers are romantic? Yes, it’s true. Some even sent me messages telling me that they teared up watching the films because the stories touched them. How beautiful is that?! Meanwhile, the People’s Choice Award winning film, When the Road Ends – Lost in the Pacific, spent about 60 minutes of its 92 minute run time on a raft on the ocean. This proves something that I’ve been saying for a long time. While we love seeing motorcycles travel through gorgeous landscapes, love the action shots, the drone footage, what matters most is story. Story trumps everything and is what draws us into the film and captures our attention and our heart.
CMG: Is the word getting out about the TMFF? Did you have more submissions from abroad this year, and from Canada?
CT: Every year awareness for TMFF grows. It’s not a rocket ship but it’s a slow and steady growth via word of mouth, coverage in articles like this (thank you, CMG!), through our social media content, and via the fantastic network of filmmakers that we’ve had the honour to work with over the years. This year there were five submissions from Canada, and of those three were selected for inclusion TMFF 2020. It may not sound like a lot but that’s a record for us and I’m glad for it.
CMG: Aside from the obvious lack of in-person viewing (did you ever get anything organized at the Revue?), what other effects did COVID have on this year’s festival?
CT: Planning for this year’s festival was a roller-coaster ride. I had first considered not proceeding at all, then was hoping that things would be back to normal come this fall, then switched to a virtual-only model which came with a huge and steep learning curve. With two weeks before announcing the films and ticket info for this year, the Ontario government announced we’d be entering Stage 3 and reopening slowly. I scrambled to work with the theatre to finalize a plan for a hybrid model and I was quite excited for it. Ultimately this never materialized because by mid-September the number of COVID cases in Toronto was on a steep climb again so we had to revert back to a virtual-only event.
CMG: How was the virtual social aspect of this year’s festival, watching the interviews and other events live as they happened?
CT: Let me start by saying that there is no substitute for a live, in-person, event. Being together with the audience and filmmakers at the theatre and various receptions is where the magic happens, but we made the best of what we could. We held a couple of in-real-time film premieres which had the audience tune in at the same time to watch the films and this certainly added some excitement to those screenings. We also held a few online Q&As, either one-on-ones with filmmakers or larger panel discussions such as with our Canadian filmmakers and one that focused on the women behind the production of so many of this year’s films. There were hiccups; panel members dropped in and out as they struggled with Internet connectivity, and I was learning how to livestream and manage production in real-time but overall, I’d say these were great attracting more viewers online then when we had these events in-person.
CMG: Looking forward, do you anticipate difficulty getting submissions for 2021, since everyone sat around home and did nothing in 2020?
CT: I am a bit worried about 2021’s submissions. Filmmakers have been impacted by COVID. Budgets were cut or evaporated all together. Social distancing requirements meant that filmmakers weren’t able to work together with a crew to produce the films, and making those global adventure movies that we love, is hard to do when you can’t travel. We’ll see what comes in next year. Constraints are often the kindling for some very creative solutions so you never know.
CMG: What is your plan for next year’s festival? Are you hoping to run a 2021 event? Are you planning another online event, or in-person, or maybe a hybrid?
CT: Yes, there will be a 2021 event and I’m hoping that it will a live in-person event with a giant kick-off party. But I also think that we’ll continue to offer an online component so that we can connect with our audience who isn’t able to come to Toronto.
CMG: What’s the biggest lesson you learned from this year’s event?
CT: This year’s festival was a good reminder of those never give up, it ain’t over ’till it’s over, keep pushing forward adages. But the biggest thing that I learned is that despite what challenges we all might face, the need for social connection, for getting together with others, even if virtually, is key to our humanity and there is value in bringing people together and making those connections happen.