Noah Cowan Named to Co-Director Post at Toronto Festival
by Eugene Hernandez
Noah Cowan has been named co-director of the Toronto International Film Festival. During a three-year transition period, which will start January 1, Cowan will share duties overseeing the programming and administration of the leading international film festival with Piers Handling, who is CEO of the Toronto International Film Festival Group. Managing Director Michele Maheux remains number two at the organization, handling the administration side of the group that manages numerous year-round activities and programs.
“It’s a total honor and a massive challenge,” Noah Cowan, a Toronto veteran who has most recently worked with Cowboy Pictures, Global Film Initiative, and Code Red Films, told indieWIRE. “This is truly one of the great jobs in cinema.” Cowan explained that for the first couple of years he intends to split his time between Canada and New York City, where he has lived for some time.
“The festival isn’t broken, it’s a really successful cultural institution,” Cowan said. “My job there is going to be keeping the festival at the forefront of new developments — new trends that are emerging — and to insure that the festival stays on the cutting edge.”
This move will let Handling dedicate more time to the recently announced Festival Centre and to the numerous activities of the Festival Group including Cinematheque Ontario, a national Film Circuit, the growing Film Reference Library, Sprockets Toronto International Film Festival for Children, and Talk Cinema.
Aiming to capture the energy of the British Film Institute of the 1970s and the Cinematheque Francais of the 1950s, Handling intends to make the new Festival Centre a home for movies and the study of cinema. The new Centre, which Handling hopes to open in 2006, will include five screens, a gallery space, a bar/café, and retail space.
“The dream here is to turn this organization into a global film organization that has year round impact,” Handling told indieWIRE. “If you create critical mass somewhere, good things will happen, opportunities happen, ideas happen, and things get produced out of that.”
“I just want to be aware of and sensitive to the future, that we don’t sit on our laurels — Noah’s job is to be sensitive to the new world,” Handling said, adding that he will maintain a role in the event. Continuing he added that the organization is working to “prove to an industry that the value of coming to a festival is not just a 10-day hit, there are a menu of other opportunities.”
Cowan has a long history with the Toronto International Film Festival, starting with a stint in the festival box office during a summer high school break in 1981. Except for the last two years, he has worked for the Festival regularly since 1989. Cowan joined TIFF as a programmer in 1989 and co-founded the festival’s Midnight Madness program. Cowan became an international programmer for the event in 1995 and was named associate director of the festival in 1997. In 2001 he left the festival to found Cowboy Pictures with John Vanco. He also recently co-founded the Global Film Initiative.
“What I feel about the festival is a certain amount of awe in the mosaic of cinema from all over the world that’s presented,” Cowan said, “Over the last two years, when I haven’t been actively involved, I have [truly] been able to experience the festival in that way.”
Cowan was raised in Canada and studied in Toronto and at the McGill University in Montreal. He has worked as a freelance journalist since 1987, serving as a contributing editor at FILMMAKER Magazine since 1995 and also writing for Time Out New York, Utne Reader, Moving Pictures International, Out!, The Globe and Mail, and eye Weekly. In addition to Cowboy and Global Film, Cowan has run Code Red Films, a partnership with producer Jeff Levy-Hinte, which released films (including such critically acclaimed films as “George Washington” and “Benjamin Smoke”) in collaboration with Cowboy.