Next Thursday, the film industry will descend on Canada’s largest city for the Toronto International Film Festival as the world premiere of Davis Guggenheim’s U2 doc, “From The Sky Down,” kicks off 11 days and hundreds of screenings.
Before you head north (or, perhaps, east or west), festival co-director Cameron Bailey wants to give you a heads up: It’s not the same festival you might have gotten used to. Here’s the highlights:
The festival is finally (fully!) downtown.
Last year, new festival hub TIFF Bell Lightbox opened halfway through the fest. This year, it’s fully operational with all five theaters being utilized from day one.
In addition, press conferences, the press office and lounge and many of the press and industry screenings will all take place in the Lightbox. And between that building and the scores of others the fest is using within a five-minute walk, Toronto is attempting to narrow the geographics of what many complained was an increasing sprawling festival.
“I’m doing everything I can to create a real festival neighborhood,” Bailey said. “As we grew in the old neighborhood, we kind of got a little spread out. The idea is really to try and consolidate things. We’re spending time doing everything from going to restaurants across the street and talking to them about how they can involved and that kind of stuff. I really want people to use the King Street strip as festival central this year. Especially if you’re coming in from out of town and you don’t know the city so well. Nobody wants to spend a lot of money on taxis or waste the time it takes to get from one place to another.”
That includes the Princess of Wales Theatre, a near 2,000-seat theater located a block from the Lightbox. It usually serves as a venue for the city’s big-budget musicals (the failed stage production of “The Lord of the Rings” made its infamous world premiere there back in 2006). This year, TIFF is taking it over for some its more high profile premieres.
“It’s a beautiful theater,” Bailey said. “It’s an investment to go in there and add movie projection and sound in, which they’ve never had before. And we’re doing it because, again, they’re right next door and we wanted another house that could do big, red-carpet premieres. It just seemed like a perfect fit.”
This year’s trends: A range of films directed by women, and issues of migration.
“To have, for instance, the new Chantal Akerman film and the new Agnieszka Holland film is great,” he said. “These are veteran filmmakers who are already a part of film history. But to have them joined by Julia Leigh, who I think has made one of the most interesting films of the year in ‘Sleeping Beauty.’ And then there’s Tanya Wexler’s film, “Hysteria”… The trailer for which is by far the most popular trailer on the TIFF website. And then of course we have Madonna, who is also exploring the lives of women from a distinct perspective in ‘W.E.'”
Bailey also said something he and TIFF CEO Piers Handling noticed when they were traveling through Europe doing screenings this year was the issue of migration. “We have at least seven or eight films that are all about migration in Europe,” he said. “Especially these really horrific stories of primarily African immigrants trying to get into Europe or getting there and facing pretty miserable conditions when they get there. And whether it’s in Italy or Spain or Germany or France. There’s a number of different filmmakers dealing with it. We saw documentary filmmakers dealing with this subject recently in the past but now we’re seeing fiction filmmakers taking it on. They’re confronting Europe’s existence as a fortress and a place that everyone wants to get into but there are walls up.”
There’s plenty of industry programming.
“There’s clearly lots of films to see and lots of new films to see – we’ve got 122 world premieres,” he said. “So I know people will be busy watching movies. But there’s lots of other things going on as well. The industry programming is really strong this year. It’s all in the filmmaker’s lounge at the Hyatt Regency. So it’s gonna be easy to be a part of it. We have people like Michael Werner from Fortissimo, Stuart Ford from IM Global, Bruce MacDonald doing a master class… And you guys at indieWIRE are doing a talk series as well. We just feel like if you make that a part of your day, it’s just going to round out your experience here so you’re not just in the dark watching movies. You can actually feed yourself with interaction with other members of the industry.”
In addition to the industry programming, there’s the open-to-the-public Mavericks talk series, which offers conversations with Tilda Swinton, Francis Ford Coppola, and Salmon Rushdie and Deepa Mehta, who will discuss “Midnight’s Children,” the Rushdie novel that Mehta just finished adapting for the screen.
And: Free wi-fi.
“The bottom line of all of this is that the festival is a social experience,” Bailey said. “You want to provide as many opportunities as we can for people to connect with each other, to talk with each other and to hear what other people have to say. We’re going to use our own building to do that as well. We want it to be a place where you can sit and have a coffee… There’s free wi-fi everywhere in the Lightbox. You can just sit with your tablet and just do your stuff, hang out and socialize with people. As well as, of course, watching movies.”
Now entering his fourth year as co-director at the festival, Bailey joked that one thing that hasn’t really changed in his job.
“When I started this gig four years ago I used to work 20-hour days in July,” he said. “Now I work 15-hour days in July. Everything else is pretty much the same: You work your ass off trying to get the best new movies you can, you fight with people who you thought were friends, you make friends with people you thought were enemies and then you climb up on stage and raise the curtain.”