masks while watching movies

Like many other festivals, the Toronto International Film Festival is largely going virtual this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. You know, the global outbreak that’s killed more than 200,000 people in the United States alone? Yeah, that pandemic. Anyway, in addition to its virtual component, TIFF is going to be having some in-person screenings for this year’s festival, but for some inexplicable reason, attendees will not be required to wear masks while watching movies inside the festival’s theaters.

Speaking of delusional behavior, the National Association of Theatre Owners have released a jaunty little animated video desperately trying to convince Americans that it’s safe to return to movie theaters. Check that out below.

The Hollywood Reporter says that TIFF is making masks mandatory in certain areas of the festival’s Bell Lightbox venue, but not where it’s most essential: the theater seats themselves. If you see a screening there during the festival, you’ll be permitted to remove your mask for the entire time that you’re seated and watching the movie – which is just categorically ridiculous. In the United States, theaters are reopening and suggesting that you wear masks while you’re inside, except when you’re eating or drinking. Since consuming concessions has become such an ingrained activity for many audience members, it essentially means that it’s practically guaranteed that there are going to be mask-less people in your theater with you. But at least American theaters are going through the song and dance of making it look like they care about public safety, whereas the TIFF organizers have decided to not even bother.

Take a look at this NATO-produced video about the “CinemaSafe” program:

Ah yes, little puns and funny-looking animated people will distract us from the very real possibility of contracting a disease that could be fatal or lead to long-lasting organ damage! Look, I don’t know how to tell you this, but unless you live in a desolate rural area where there’s going to be no one else in the theater with you, or unless you and your COVID-bubble friends rent out an entire theater for the first showing of the day, movie theaters are just not safe places to be right now. I’m sorry if you disagree with that on an emotional level, but the science backs me up on this.

Which is why this TIFF fiasco makes so little sense. Toronto organizers insisted to THR that they’re following the advice of public health experts and complying with limited capacity screenings and social distanced seating arrangements. But movie theaters are dangerous enough right now, even if you are wearing a mask the entire time. What is the benefit of encouraging people to ignore one of the only protective measures they can take in a hostile environment? This decision is so stupid that I’m genuinely surprised it’s happening in Canada and not at a U.S.-based film festival.

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