Frame X Frame

The ul­ti­mate in­sider, Barry Avrich on the evo­lu­tion of tiff

DINE and Destinations - - TABLE OF CONTENTS -

FAN­TAS­TIC The evo­lu­tion of tiff

THE TORONTO IN­TER­NA­TIONAL FILM FES­TI­VAL (tiff), not un­like a Steven Spiel­berg film, was a block­buster out of the gate. Its founders, the late Dusty Cohl and Bill Mar­shall, and Henk Van der Kolk, had given Toronto the alchemy of film, schmooze and booze they had seen in Cannes, call­ing it the Fes­ti­val of Fes­ti­vals. The fu­ture gen­er­a­tions of man­age­ment grew the fes­ti­val, which changed its name to tiff in the ’90s, into one of the most pow­er­ful and pres­ti­gious film fes­ti­vals in the world.

Fast for­ward to more than four decades later, tiff has be­come three fes­ti­vals run­ning con­cur­rently over 10 days. The first of the three fes­ti­vals re­flects its founders’ vi­sion of be­ing a film-lovers fes­ti­val jam-packed with a myr­iad of in­ter­na­tional gems and in­die dis­cov­er­ies. Pa­trons brave long lines, fight hard for sought-af­ter buzzy films and have end­less in­sight on how best to nav­i­gate tiff’s mas­sive ten­ta­cles. Star-seek­ing is lim­ited to undis­cov­ered direc­tors and emerg­ing artists. They couldn’t care less about what red car­pet Ge­orge Clooney is walk­ing or where An­gelina Jolie is din­ing.

The sec­ond fes­ti­val is pure busi­ness. For the first five to six days of tiff, thou­sands of film buy­ers and dis­trib­u­tors from around the globe in­vade ev­ery pos­si­ble ho­tel lobby and be­gin wheel­ing and deal­ing to pick up films for var­i­ous ter­ri­to­ries and dig­i­tal plat­forms. Not un­like a Klondike gold rush, th­ese savvy and some­times smarmy buy­ers work a deal to death to pick up a film. The stakes have be­come very high as global pow­er­houses like Net­flix and Ama­zon are buy­ing up ev­ery­thing in sight. Dur­ing tiff, you can of­ten wit­ness the en­tire equa­tion of the film busi­ness chang­ing. None­the­less, th­ese crea­tures are fun to watch as they rush with their tiff cre­den­tials in the wind in a blur from ho­tel lobby bar to pri­vate club to pa­tio to close a deal.

The third tiff fes­ti­val is the one that at­tracts the most head­lines and a tsunami of glitz and flash. The “Gala” screen­ings are the ones with high-oc­tane stars, end­less red car­pets and in­sane pa­parazzi. Th­ese are also the films that gen­er­ally open in wide re­lease ei­ther dur­ing tiff or right af­ter and yet they are the most sought-af­ter due to the up close look at the cast. Over the years, tiff has been crit­i­cized for pro­gram­ming too many block­busters; I still think, how­ever, there’s some­thing for ev­ery­one and quite of­ten a pa­tron will come for the stars and some­how dis­cover an in­die film or two. Th­ese ticket buy­ers are vet­er­ans in know­ing where the stars eat, sleep and shop. And the beauty of tiff is that the stars are very ap­proach­able and ac­ces­si­ble as they rec­og­nize the Toronto tiff fan base is re­spect­ful and de­voted.

In be­tween th­ese con­cur­rent fes­ti­vals is an­other blur of extraordinary ac­tiv­ity such as press con­fer­ences, pan­els and a plethora of pri­vate din­ners where stu­dios and sales agents are host­ing the stars to a post screen­ing feast. It is not un­usual to see a long line of black SUVS out­side the city’s sud­denly star-drenched din­ing hotspots.

It is no se­cret that in the last year, tiff has been sub­jected to some harsh crit­i­cism for grow­ing too big and per­haps stray­ing from its founders’ ob­jec­tives. I have no fear that, like any show busi­ness brand, it’s part of tiff’s evo­lu­tion to ex­pand, con­tract and con­tinue to be the very best film fes­ti­val on the planet.

“Pa­trons brave long lines, fight hard for soughtafter buzzy films and have end­less in­sight on how best to nav­i­gate tiff’s mas­sive ten­ta­cles”

Justin Tim­ber­lake runs the red car­pet at the 2016 Toronto In­ter­na­tional Film Fes­ti­val Pre­miere of Justin Tim­ber­lake + The Ten­nessee Kids.

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