Frame X Frame
The ultimate insider, Barry Avrich on the evolution of tiff
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. www.tiff.net
“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.