In just two days, the Toronto International Film Festival will turn 35 as it kicks off eleven days of some 300 highly anticipated films from around the world. For Cameron Bailey, it marks his third year as the festival’s co-director, but for him it’s probably going to feel more like a first time around. In fact, it may be a similar feeling for just about anyone who attends the festival, no matter how many times they’ve done so in the past. Massive change has come Toronto way, in the form of a brand new festival center in the TIFF Bell Lightbox and a complete geographical shift of festival activity.
Bailey offered indieWIRE a few words of wisdom to share with regard to the new situation that might give anyone concerned about negotiating it a bit more confidence. He also delved into some highlights in the festival’s programming, and one or two films he thinks this year’s attendees should look out for. So before hitting the ground running, take in some thoughts from a man who knows very well what’s about to go down:
1. Get ready for the Bell Lightbox.
“It’s our 35th anniversary this year, and we finally have our own home, which is great… It’s a big deal for us as we spent just about a decade from idea to final completion.”
2. And for the celebration that comes with it.
“We’re going to do a big public opening on the first Sunday of the festival and we’re going to open with a massive block party in front of the building. All kinds of bands are going to play, including one special surprise guest that we cannot announce yet but he or she or they will be playing. And the public can walk in the building and tour around and have a look at what we’re doing. Then at night, we’re going to start the building’s entry into the film festival with the very first film screening, which will be Bruce McDonald’s “Trigger.” We wanted to find a film that would really be recognize and celebrate our engagement with the Toronto film community that supported us for so many years.
Bruce has been showing films in Toronto for over twenty years, and this film is really a kind of love letter to the city, and it’s been made by a lot of the leading lights in the Toronto scene. Bruce directed it, it was written by Daniel McIvor, a great playwright and filmmaker, and it stars Molly Parker and has cameos from Don McKeller and Sarah Polley. And of course, the star of the film is Tracy Wright, who just passed away this summer. This film and this screening is a real tribute to her.”
3. And for a whole new way of experiencing TIFF.
“I think [Bell Lightbox] is going to give the festival a real central hub. And this means that there will be a big move south from our traditional home up in the Bloor/Yorkville area. Most of the activity is going to happen on King Street West, where our building is. Right next door is our new host hotel, the Hyatt Regency, where all the press conferences will happen, and both the industry centre and media lounge will be there. So that will really be a hub for the people who are working at the festival.
Then just two blocks north of that is the new home for just about all the press and industry screenings, the Scotiabank Cinemas, and then a block away from that is the new filmmakers’ lounge at Richmond Street & Peter Street. So those four things will form a kind of a square, and within that square it’s really where the people doing the work at the festival – the journalists, the industry members, the buyers, the sellers, the filmmakers – that’s where they’re going to be spending most of their time.”
4. About that filmmakers lounge…
“Over the last few years we’ve had something called The Match Club, which was kind of an industry meeting place. It was fairly small – we did it in a restaurant just north of our old home at The Sutton Place. But we’re really taking that idea and expanding it in a big way, and also trying to take up some of what we’ve seen really work at Sundance and at Rotterdam. Both of those festivals have really great filmmakers’ homes. Places where you can go for industry sessions, panels, talks… Places that are also meeting places and hang out spaces that are often open late. So we thought ‘let’s do that’ as part of bringing back the social atmosphere to the festival this year.
We’ve taken over two levels of warehouse space at the corner of Richmond and Peter and we’re outfitting it for the festival. During the day there’ll be all the industry panels… we’re going to bring in filmmakers to talk, and we’re going to bring in Roger Ebert whose going to do a kind of ‘twitter showdown’ in this panel that will all be tweeted. Then at night, we have DJs. You can come by after screenings, and we’ll be open late. Anybody with a badge, essentially, can get in… We really hope that people will use it as their home away from home.”
5. Expect a number of films dealing with coming of age in the 21st century.
“Everything from ‘Wasted On The Young,’ this great Australian movie which is essentially a ‘Lord of the Flies’ in an Australian high school, with kids being unbelievably cruel and terrifying to each other – and using technology and social media as a way to do it in the way that kids do. You can also go back to Peter Mullan’s film ‘Ned,s’ which is set in the 1970s, but is very much about the young man’s coming-of-age and how he turns from a bright young student into a cruel thug, largely through the environment that surrounds him. There’s also ‘Never Let Me Go,’ which is a very interesting film. Carey Mulligan and Keira Knightley play two young women growing up in an environment where essentially technology defines them. And what I like about this one is that it’s kind of like a science fiction film with no hard science in it. It feels like a period piece. There are many other films like these. Films that feel like filmmakers are trying to capture the changes that young people are going through right now in what feels like a harsher environment for growing up.”
6. Also look out for themes centering on human rights in TIFF’s programming.
“It’s expressed in so many different ways. Everything from fairly big scale, broadly accessible movies like ‘Conviction’ – the Hilary Swank film where she stars as a woman who goes to law school so she can help her brother who she feels is wrongfully convicted. There’s also Robert Redford’s ‘The Conspirator,’ which is about how the rule of law can really suffer when the public is swept up in an emotional fervour. It’s set in the aftermath of the Lincoln assassination but I feel like it very much speaks to what’s happening right now. There’s ‘Made In Dagenham,’ about a strike that women launched for equal rights for equal pay in 1960s Britain, and ‘The Whistleblower,’ with Rachel Weisz playing a cop who goes to Bosnia and uncovers a human trafficking ring that preys on young women.”
“And these are really just some of the higher profile titles. A number of different filmmakers are looking at some hard human rights issues. I think in previous years we were seeing filmmakers directly address current events like Iraq or Afghanistan or the economy, but now I think we’re seeing filmmakers trying to get to the heart of some of those issues. And essentially many of them boil down to more general questions of human rights and how those can be defended.”
7. Check out one of the less high-profile films that Bailey has ‘high hopes’ for.
“There’s ‘Aftershock,’ by Feng Xiaogang – a Chinese film that has already become the highest grossing film in China this year. We’ll have the international premiere. It follows a family that’s torn apart by a devastating earthquake that happened in the 1970s and killed over 200,000 people. It follows that family over the years, and it’s a real heartbreaking story that’s beautifully told. It’s both a family drama and a big budget effects film… and the kind of film that usually doesn’t break out from China because it’s not a martial arts film. But it’s a really well told story, and Xiaogang is developing as a kind of Spielberg of China. So I would love to see that film do well. I think it’s the kind of film that could easily sell to a North American distributor and become a little bit of a breakout.
8. And don’t forget about the bigger ones either.
“I mean, just to name a few of the bigger films… We’ve got the new Robert Redford. We’ve got ‘Trust,’ David Schwimmer’s film that I think is a really powerful drama, again on the subject of young people coming of age. I think ‘Black Swan’ is a terrific film and obviously Darren Aronofsky has done so well recently with ‘The Wrestler.’ And I think the intensity he brought to that film he brings to the world of ballet here. That’s not an easy feat but he really pulls it off. And there’s several others… I mean, we recently heard that Alain Corneau had passed away. And his film ‘Love Crimes’ [also playing here] is a wonderful, tight thriller. It’s a really juicy movie and fun to watch. The kind of film that I’d hope people would gravitate toward as a classic example of French genre work.”
9. Market watchers, be patient…
“A lot of sales happened six or eight weeks after the festival [last year] but they were seen here. And some of them were big successes like ‘The Secret In Their Eyes,’ which was bought here, and ‘Get Low’ as well. Sony Classics picked up both of those and did quite well with them. So I expect that to happen again. Obviously, the distribution landscape is changing in North America so it’s hard to say we’re going to go back anytime soon to the days of crazy, late night bidding wars in cigar filled rooms… But I think what you will see is that a lot of buyers are going to be clustered around certain films and I think they all know what they are. We do have some major films that up for sale here. And we’ll see what timeline they follow. I’m not so worked up about whether they sell the night after their premiere or whether they sell a few weeks later. I’m just hoping the films we have, that are seeking distribution, actually get brought to theatrical audiences because I think there’s some great work here.”