How TIFF Reinvented Itself with the Visa Skyline Drive-In

By Fatima Zaidi

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With September marking the six-month anniversary of the COVID-19 pandemic, one question lurked at the forefront of our minds as proud Torontonians: Would this strange and unsettling year be further marred by the absence of our beloved film festival, Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF)? Both movie aficionados and casual viewers alike geared themself for disappointment, reluctantly prepared for all 2020 screenings to be cancelled in light of the ongoing crisis. 

Thankfully, the key adage regarding invention and necessity remains true. TIFF adopted an event format providing sponsors with an opportunity to reimagine activation approaches and show up in new and differentiated ways. For long-standing sponsor, Visa, it meant delivering a different type of exclusive experience for cardholders and clients live onsite. The Visa Skyline Drive-In at CityView, an innovative reimagination of their annual activation married our need to respect social distancing guidelines with our equally important desire for inspiration, entertainment, and culture.

TIFF Visa Skyline entranceThis year’s Visa Skyline Drive-In was a fun, unique experience for Visa cardholders and festival attendees alike. For the duration of the festival, which ran from September 10-19, 2020, Torontonians were able to enjoy a handpicked selection of international and local feature films from the comfort and seclusion of their vehicles, set before the stunning background of our beautiful city skyline. In addition, Visa hosted private TIFF screening events on three consecutive evenings (September 13-15, 2020) for small business owners, clients, and cardholders. This luxurious VIP experience came complete with delicious food, beverages, and treats provided to attendees through partnerships made by Visa with local small-to-medium businesses. 

Notable small business partners included Mira Mira, foodie-favorite sandwich and ice cream boutique; PS by Pretty Sweet, a creative custom bakery run by the renowned Chef Adjoa Duncan; Alma + Gil, a brewery which serves some of the best kombucha in Toronto; Burdock Brewery, everyone’s favorite local beer, wine, and bread emporium; and many more! This incredible feast came packaged in a gorgeous picnic basket provided by SoYoung, a Canadian brand of elevated lunch bags on a mission to bring both style and sustainability to perishable food packaging. 

TIFF Visa SkylineSeveral non-profit organizations were also represented. A pillar of the local community, Peace Collective, has been working hard to mitigate the challenges presented by COVID-19 by equipping frontline workers with reusable masks, with 10,000 donations to date; even better, all proceeds from their affirmation-oriented garment and accessory sales support food banks across Canada. Reservedx also made an appearance, a female-founded and minority-led talent management agency which links clients with a host of talented and experienced freelancers.

All in all, not only was Visa Skyline Drive-In an incredible experience for TIFF viewers, it also provided a much-needed showcase for Canadian SMBs. There is no question that the challenges brought about by COVID-19 continue to have an enormous impact on small and medium-sized businesses across Canada. In fact, according to Visa’s recent Back to Business study, Canadian SMBs estimate it will be an average of 10 months before their business is back to being fully operational, the longest of all countries surveyed. While this year’s TIFF format was undoubtedly different from those of previous events, it was nonetheless a spectacular success, giving us all something to look forward to during an otherwise challenging year, as well as providing an ingenious blueprint for how big brands can support small businesses.


Fatima Zaidi is the co-founder of Quill, the world’s first one-stop marketplace and agency where podcasters can find pre-vetted expert freelancers who will save them time, improve their podcast quality, and help grow their audience.