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The 2019 Toronto International Film Festival started Thursday with one key change in the festival’s program — the popular Midnight Madness screenings will now only be accessible to those over the age of 19 because of a sponsorship deal with a cannabis company.
Midnight Madness films screen every night at 11:59 p.m. in the Ryerson Theatre for the duration of the festival, which ends Sept. 15.
The age restriction came after Toronto-based cannabis company, Cronos Group, became the sponsor of Midnight Madness. “Age-gated events assist in preventing any under-aged festival-goers from being exposed to advertising directed to older consumers. Cannabis currently follows similar regulations as alcohol and therefore cannot be advertised or marketed to younger audiences,” a TIFF spokesperson said in an email to the Ryersonian.
Since legalization, the federal Cannabis Act has imposed strict regulations surrounding the marketing of cannabis. Through the act, the marketing and promotion of cannabis towards any underage person is prohibited.
First-year Ryerson student Mahaimin Hassan was disappointed about the festival’s decision. “I feel discriminated against because people that were 16-18 last year were able to take part (in the Midnight Madness screenings) but then we cannot do the same. That just seems unfair.”
TIFF’s spokesperson said that because Canada’s regulatory environment now allows Cronos Group to operate within a legal federal framework, “Cronos will have a presence within age-gated environments at select TIFF events.”
Despite its limiting effects on viewership, the festival’s organizers maintain that the cannabis company offers a strong and positive partnership for the festival. “Cronos is an innovative, groundbreaking company and their work and products resonate with many of our fans,” TIFF’s spokesperson said.
While disappointed, Hassan says that he hopes his brother, who is over the age of 19, will attend a Midnight Madness screening in his place.
Activists accuse TIFF of taking “blood money”
Animal rights activists led by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals protested Canada Goose’s sponsorship of TIFF outside the TIFF Bell Lightbox last Thursday. The clothing manufacturer uses coyote fur in the hoods and liners of its jackets, a practice that many activists have called on the company to end.
Tricia Lebkuecher,a senior campaigner for PETA and organizer of the protest, believes the coyote fur extraction is unethical and wants TIFF to sever ties with the Canadian brand.
In a statement, Canada Goose defended its role in the festival by criticizing PETA for using “scripted rhetoric… to attempt to mislead consumers.”
“We have shown Canada Goose’s executives how animals suffer and die in the down and fur industry,” Lebkuecher said in response. “But the company doesn’t seem to care and instead continues to hide behind misleading claims.”
Actor and animal rights activist, Joaquin Phoenix, is set to receive an award during the festival next week. Protester Mary-Chris Staples hopes that he uses his influence to convince TIFF to sever ties with Canada Goose.
The protests will continue throughout the 10-day festival, along with a mobile PETA billboard that will drive through the various screening locations.