The annual cinematic celebration — featuring a vast program packed with big budget Hollywood flicks, fresh work from established and emerging Canadians, anticipated new international titles and foreign language gems — officially opens Thursday night with Rian Johnson’s sci-fi action thriller Looper, starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis, Emily Blunt and Jeff Daniels.
Celebrities like Ben Affleck, Vanessa Redgrave, Penelope Cruz, Salman Rushdie and Keira Knightley are set to stroll along red carpets around the downtown core, while esteemed directors such as Michael Haneke, Olivier Assayas, Susanne Bier and Peter Mettler will showcase their latest to Toronto audiences.
“Toronto has a lot of impact in terms of commercial potential and future for a film, so people come here regardless of whether [they’re seeking] awards … They need to be here,” he added.
While other top festivals, like Cannes, are largely industry events open to insiders and media, Toronto developed a reputation as a valuable testing ground and “the people’s festival” because of its large, welcoming and cinema-savvy audience of regular filmgoers.
“There’s an opportunity to really bring together people from all different parts of the world during the festival — who are already here doing business and showing their films and having premieres, but to talk about business, to talk about what are the next steps for all of us, so that we can understand how we need to grow,” he said.
“Because the film industry, like every other business, never stands still.”
Further to this new goal of serving as an international bridge-builder — for movie production, financing and as a talent showcase — festival organizers have expanded its industry-related offerings, for instance boosting TIFF’s existing program of workshops, widening the annual documentary conference and hosting its first-ever Asian Film Summit.
TIFF is increasingly becoming a key gathering place for the international film industry, according to TIFF CEO Piers Handling, left, and artistic director Cameron Bailey. (Michelle Siu/Canadian Press)
High-profile participants include Oscar-winning movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, former U.S. Senator Chris Dodd (now chair of the Motion Picture Association of America), IMAX executive Larry O’Reilly and filmmakers like Mira Nair, Eli Roth and Jackie Chan.
“Toronto is now beginning to seriously look at its industry responsibilities in terms of building the next generation — a new generation — of Canadian talent, international talent [and] to act as a meeting ground for the international industry to talk over common issues,” Handling said.
As the festival has increased in stature, so has the public’s desire to get in and see what’s onscreen.
“The public demand is phenomenal,” Handling noted, adding that because movie-going patrons complained of difficulties acquiring tickets for the festival, TIFF has invested a significant amount of time and resources to revamping its system.
‘The festival is all about making the films as accessible as possible for the public of Toronto and if we haven’t done a good job, I’m sure we’ll hear it. Please tell us.’—Piers Handling, TIFF CEO
“The festival is all about making the films as accessible as possible for the public of Toronto and if we haven’t done a good job, I’m sure we’ll hear it. Please tell us,” he said.
“What hasn’t worked this year, we’ll make absolutely sure we’ll fix for next year.”
And when all else fails, Handling suggests there’s always the possibility of a little movie magic.
“I’m always of the opinion that if you really want to get into something, you absolutely can. Just go down to the cinema and stuff happens.”