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Toronto International Film Festival

Toronto Exclusive Magazine

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Providing captivating films for 33 years.

For the last 33 years, an annual event has engulfed the city of Toronto and its inhabitants, replacing the mundane with a welcomed dose of culture, excitement, and highly anticipated artworks.

This event is the Toronto International Film Festival, the most successful public film festival worldwide. While its accomplished status is notorious, few know how this film festival first began, and how it gained such momentum on the path to success. The Toronto Film Festival Group is a not-for-profit organization that simply wanted to bring art and culture to the city, and revolutionize the meaning of creativity in a public space. William Marshall, one of the founders of the festival, said: “It wasn’t a question of us trying to impose a festival on this city. People were starving for something like this.” He spoke of Toronto’s thirst for culture in 1976 – a quote that is just as true today. With 470,000 public and industry admissions in the 2008 festival, it’s clear that Toronto can’t get enough of the captivating films that TIFF annually provides. The very first film festival started out with 127 feature films from 30 countries all over the globe. Although it didn’t begin with the most encouraging attendance numbers, Toronto soon welcomed the festival with loving arms. Piers Handling, the current Festival Director, attended the first festival: “You could tell right away that this was something that was going to catch on. The seeds were definitely there.” Torontonians weren’t the only ones benefitting from the festival. The international films meant exposure and publicity for many foreign directors. In 1976, German cinema was focused upon. North America became familiar with German directors such as Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Werner Herzog. In 1977, Greek cinema was emphasized. Over the years we were introduced to Asian cinema, gay cinema, horror films, films from New Zealand, Brazil, and Israel, and of course Canadian cinema.

The TIFF had become a huge success for everyone involved. In 1994 it was discovered just how much the festival was giving to Toronto and Ontario economically. It brought in $7.5 million from tourism alone and an astounding $30 million to the province annually. The film premieres drew in huge audiences, but those numbers can also be attributed to everything else that comprises TIFF. The press conferences, media attention, and the vast number of celebrity filmmakers and actors have also contributed to TIFF’s achievements. With the filmmakers and film watchers in the same place, the gap between creators and viewers closed. Audiences also got a better look at their favourite stars. Recently, the number of celebrities visiting the festival has dramatically increased. Between 2001 and 2006, the festival was graced with the attendance of Steve Martin, Nicholas Cage, Doris Dorrie, Luc Dardenne, Brad Pitt, Robert DeNiro, and Meryl Streep.

TIFF is dedicated to all aspects of the film community. Beginning from its first year, the festival provided seminars on film production and independent filmmaking, followed by the creation of the Trade Forum in 1979. The Trade Forum featured keynote speakers and panel discussions that cultivated Canadian cinema and reached out to all filmmakers. This specialized industry component made the festival more than just a publicly available commercial event. There was truly a spirit of innovation and encouragement behind the establishment of the festival. The TIFF soon became the primary event that garnered attention from Hollywood studios as well as production and distribution companies, who all knew the importance of a renowned film premiere. The festival’s 25th anniversary was celebrated by featuring the world premieres of films such as Best In Show and Sous Le Sable, and also featured the North American premiere of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Between 1995 and 2001, a multitude of moving films was unveiled to Toronto and the world. These included Amélie, American Beauty, Boys Don’t Cry, The Spanish Prisoner, The Hurricane, Life is Beautiful, Boogie Nights, The Sweet Hereafter, and Run Lola Run. In celebration of TIFF’s film premieres, many entertainment events have been added to the festival’s scheduling. Many of these events took place in 2008, beginning with the musical artist Keb’Mo’ who performed in support of Jerry Zak’s Who Do You Love film. This film is about the Chess Records blues and r & b label, which has impacted much of Keb’Mo’s music today. In support of Kristopher Belman’s documentary More Than A Game, a slam-dunk competition was held and featured an appearance by Lebron James. The Real Shaolin, a martial arts film by Alexander Sebastien Lee, also received support from the schedule of events. A group of Shaolin monks performed a martial arts demonstration for an audience in Toronto. The wide range of events and activities provided by The Toronto International Film Festival Group has strengthened their impact on Toronto and filmmakers everywhere.

Even though the TIFF premieres films from all over the world and gives a voice to international filmmakers, its roots still belong in Canada. The film festival has maintained its dedication to Canadian filmmakers, by consistently providing local talent with creative opportunities. The festival itself always contains Canadian films, which are introduced to a primarily Canadian audience. The Canadian Cinema programme was established in 1976, and a retrospective of Quebec cinema was featured in 1977. In 2004, Canada First! was introduced to the festival, highlighting the importance of Canadian filmmaking. Up-and-coming Canadian talents experience their feature debuts, and are revealed to the public for the first time. Short Cuts Canada was also established to draw attention to the flourishing collection of Canadians short films being created. The Toronto International Film Festival Group continued to expand, and included Film Circuit, the film exhibition model. This provides Canadian and international films with lots of exposure all over Canada. Under-serviced areas across Canada finally have the opportunity to witness these exquisite films, and in turn the filmmakers gain a growing audience. Film Circuit has grown even more, and exhibits Canadian films to 20 countries worldwide. The efforts to publicize Canadian talent have not gone unnoticed, and the impact that the TIFF has had on the international film industry will certainly never be forgotten.

Photo credit:
(pictured) Winners of City of Toronto Citytv Award for Best Canadian Feature. Held at the Awards Reception at the Intercontinental Hotel
Photo: Leonard Adam/WireImage for the Toronto International Film Festival

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