TIFF 2017: Interview with Cameron Bailey

The Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) is known in the film industry as one of the most prominent film festivals in the world. Many TIFF premiers have gone on to win Oscars, including several films that received TIFF’s People’s Choice Awards. From September 7th to 17th, Toronto’s Entertainment District will be abuzz with producers, actors and moviegoers, as they descend on the city to catch the first glimpse of some of the most anticipated films of the year.

Unlike other festivals, TIFF offers a diverse selection of genres, ranging from premiers of commercial movies to unique independent foreign films, which are showcased to both filmmakers and the general public. In addition to patrons being able to star gaze during the red carpet walks, the cast of many of the films often stay for questions and answers after screenings. This gives the audience an unprecedented opportunity to learn more about their favourite films.

The TIFF Bell Lightbox was completed in 2010 and since then it has added to the vibrancy of the Entertainment District. We look forward to Mirvish+Gehry being a part of the culturally rich neighbourhood. With the festival commencing next month, our team had the opportunity to speak with TIFF’s Artistic Director, Cameron Bailey.

 

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Cameron Bailey is the Artistic Director of the Toronto International Film Festival. He’s responsible for the festival’s programming and provides strategic leadership that has made TIFF a worldwide success.

 

Mirvish+Gehry spoke with Mr. Bailey on August 22, 2017 to celebrate TIFF’s schedule launch.

 

Mirvish+Gehry: For the Mirvish+Gehry followers who haven’t been to TIFF, what can you tell them about the experience that the festival brings to the Entertainment District?

Cameron Bailey: “It’s the largest public festival in the world. We have typically between 400,000 and 500,000 attendees. It feels like the biggest celebration of movies you can imagine. Movies from all over the world, from 70 different countries. We work with the city to close down the stretch of King Street between University and Peter for the first four days of the festival. The festival spills out on the street, we’ve got all kinds of great activations happening. In the theatres, in the Princess of Wales and Roy Thompson Hall and our own TIFF Bell Lightbox right on King Street, we’ve got movies running all day and all night.”

MG: In the past 10 years Toronto has had a significant amount of new developments, including the TIFF Bell Lightbox. Would you say there is a relationship between cinema and the urban landscape, in a way in which we imagine the city on film and how it is built?

CB: “Absolutely, I know from my architect friends, that they’re often big cinema fans as well, and they watch how filmmakers use space and time in movies and that sometimes that influences architects and I know that some filmmakers, people like (Michaelangelo) Antonioni are probably the most celebrated, but many filmmakers have been very influenced by architecture as well, so there is a symbiotic relationship for sure.”

MG: In addition to the TIFF Bell Lightbox, Toronto’s Entertainment district is also known for its landmark theatres, including the Princess of Wales which hosts TIFF Gala screenings. Before those shows, King Street is shut down for the stars to walk the red carpet where they can interact with fans, and there is often a Q&A after the films. Can you share your favourite TIFF moment at the Princess of Wales Theatre?

CB: “Princess of Wales is exceptional and we’ve had some remarkable moments there over the last several years…. We’ve launched Steve McQueen’s film “12 Years a Slave” there. I remember being there to introduce the film and of course the film was produced by Brad Pitt, so Brad Pitt’s back stage, and Steve McQueen and Chiwetel Ejiofor and all those people back stage – nervous. They had just come from the Telluride Film Festival, they were launching it to really the main public audience for the very first time. It was exciting for me as well, I am of African descent, the story of Africans who were enslaved speaks to me very personally as well. I remember giving an introduction to the film, I didn’t realize, I found this out later, Darren Aronofsky was in the audience (the filmmaker). And he said that, [the introduction] framed the film in a way that he felt was really important, and that really meant a lot to me to have another filmmaker say that because they pay attention to how their films are framed. So that was really one of highlights. We’ve had, incredible musicians there, we’ve had Neil Young there, we’ve had all kinds of people there, and we will again this year. We’re going to have a film that Drake executive produced this year, so he’ll be there. But I also remember things that seem a little more unpredictable. I remember when we were showing the Paul Thomas Anderson film “The Master”. We installed 70mm film projection in the Princess of Wales – for one screening. There’s only ever been one time in that theatre’s history that it has had 70mm projection and it requires different projectors. We did that for Paul Thomas Anderson and he’s a detail freak, so he was in the booth making sure that everything was exactly right and that the projection was perfectly set up. And then of course his star Joaquin Phoenix can be a little stage shy and he wouldn’t go on stage. It was amazing because we put so much effort into the technical presentation and making the filmmaker happy and then on the day, Joaquin Phoenix actually stood back stage at the Princess of Wales, outside the theatre just having a cigarette and never went on stage after all. So, all kinds of things happen.”

MG: In architecture we talk about the “Bilbao Effect” which is when an architectural design becomes the catalyst for positive economic impact in the surrounding city, most notably Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim in Bilbao. Many people may not realize that TIFF’s economic impact for Toronto’s economy is about $190 million. Similar to Bilbao, TIFF supports the arts, culture and good design which ultimately leads to positive financial impacts. Do you feel that TIFF’s example is something that other cities can learn from, and if so what can they do?

CB: “Yeah, I think there’s a mutual benefit in having a cultural institution have their own real estate, their own home where they can present culture everyday of the year. So TIFF has been around for 42 years but the Lightbox is only 7 years old, and it has transformed the organization. And it’s made this a destination for audiences not just in the city but in the region and sometimes coming into Toronto to see certain series. We presented a retrospective (…) this past summer and someone flew in from Vancouver and stayed downtown in the city to watch all the films in this retrospective, it was that rare. That’s happening more and more and we know that in addition to the Lightbox and the other cultural institutions that are down in this area and media institutions like the CBC, and CTV, and the National Film Board. There is a growing up in restaurants, night clubs, hotels, all kinds of new things that didn’t exist down here before. I’m not saying that TIFF created all that but we are part of an ecosystem where you plant one important institution and the other things grow.

MG: Creative and cultural programming are an integral part of Mirvish+Gehry Toronto. There will be a free art gallery that will showcase David Mirvish’s private collection as well as a campus for OCAD University. How do you see Mirvish+Gehry complementing TIFF and the surrounding Entertainment District? And is there anything that you personally look forward to in Mirvish+Gehry?

CB: “I’ve been fortunate enough to hear David Mirvish speak about his art collection and just the depth and breadth of his knowledge about, especially contemporary visual art. I’m very excited to know that he will be displaying some of that collection on a regular basis in the gallery and that it will be free, that’s amazing. That’s exciting, that’s going to be a great addition. I’m also aware, just through some people who teach at OCAD of what it will mean to have the energy and vitality that comes from their students and their faculty being right on King Street as well. All of that is exciting for us, we want to have a kind of a cultural hub, in the way that some parts of other cities do as well. If you’re in certain parts of New York around where the Julliard school is across from the Film Society at Lincoln Center. They’re two completely different art forms but they feed each other, there’s a symbiotic relationship and I think that will happen here on King Street as well.”

MG: Toronto is a very multicultural city with over 140 languages and dialects spoken, it’s a place that many people from all over the world call home. How does this influence your selection decision for TIFF films?

CB: “I’m an immigrant myself to Canada, and to Toronto so I am very aware of that perspective of having one foot planted in Canada and sometimes a foot planted somewhere else, a knowledge of cultures from other parts of the world and it’s part of what makes Toronto such a rich city. And it’s not simply the food, although that’s a nice by-product, but it’s the ideas, it’s the ways of thinking, it’s the perspectives that we get from having people who have such different backgrounds. And I think as an art institution we benefit from that and I think we have a responsibility as well to reflect that and to invite in the entire population of the city, so we do try to do that. I always think of it this way, that there is a streetcar that runs along King Street right in front of our doors, the Lightbox’s doors. Everyday it’s full of just the range and the diversity of Toronto and I want to make sure that our doors feel open to everybody riding on that streetcar, that there is a sense that this is a cultural institution, it’s for everyone and if you’re part of this landscape and part of this city, that this is one of your cultural homes.”

MG: How would you differentiate a filmgoers experience at TIFF compared to other film festivals?

CB: “It’s the public audience, it’s the fact that it’s not just an industry festival, not just a media festival, it not for insiders – it’s for everyone. It’s why filmmakers come here, and it’s why they want to bring their films here. The Toronto audience is known all over the world for being really enthusiastic about movies, they love film but they’re also very knowledgeable. That combination is what makes this festival really distinctive. And the fact that it’s in a big city, you can get to Toronto on a direct flight from almost anywhere that people make movies in the world. There are great hotels, and restaurants that are world class right close to where the festival happens. You don’t have to go to a remote location to attend our festival and there’s a great public when you land.”

MG: What are you personally excited about for this year’s TIFF?

CB: “So many things, it’s hard to just pick one thing honestly. I think the activity on the street and in Lightbox is what’s most exciting. We work here all year round and now we are on the verge of welcoming the whole city into this building again. We do a pre-festival fundraiser called the TIFF Soiree, and our guest this year is Priyanka Chopra which we are very excited about. She’s going to be in this building in a couple of weeks to kick off the whole party. It’s going to be fun!”

 

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