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TIFF Criticized for Treating Women ‘As Objects’ With Scantily Clad Cheerleaders at Closing-Night Party

Cheerleaders at the festival's closing-night party criticized as "backwards;" a former employee asks for a pledge that it won't happen again.

Cotton Candy Events/Twitter

Anyone who’s been to the Toronto International Film Festival is used to seeing the lowercase TIFF logo adorned on tote bags, posters and t-shirts all across the city. This includes the closing-night party held Saturday night, where attendees were greeted by uniformed cheerleaders with the TIFF logo across their chests, booked via Cotton Candy Events. (According to Cotton Candy, the party’s prom theme was the festival’s idea.)

“I’d have way more fun at #TIFF16 parties if there were not women literally hired to be decorative,” tweeted Alison Zimmer, a former festival employee. 

READ MORE: TIFF 2016: Our Favorite Moments From This Year’s Biggest Film Festival

It’s not uncommon for movie events to hire shiny and semi-clad women for premieres and the like, but it seems especially discordant when TIFF makes a point of celebrating women filmmakers and creating opportunities in an industry that sees a tiny percentage of films directed by women. 

Zimmer wasn’t alone in her annoyance. Sarbjit Kaur told the Toronto Star: “They were dressed very scantily. It seemed sexist to me that there were no men, and it was kind of a type of entertainment that I don’t see much of any more at an event like that in 2016. It annoyed me. … It just seemed like a backwards thing.” (She later Tweeted: “I should have said: ‘IT PISSED ME RIGHT THE HELL OFF'”)

Zimmer later expanded on her comments in a Facebook post: “What does it say to the women who work for TIFF, the female filmmakers and industry guests and the general public when they walk into an official TIFF event to see women treated as objects? What tone does it set for how women are to be treated, respected? For me, this undoes [sic] any good will from the endless women in film panels, strides towards equity in programming and stated commitments to representation.”

READ MORE: The 2016 IndieWire TIFF Bible: Every Review, Interview and News Item Posted During the Festival

TIFF responded to Zimmer’s comments in a Facebook post of its own. “We appreciate Alison’s comments and will take them into account as we plan TIFF events in the future,” begins the statement. “We’ve also responded to Alison directly and hope to meet soon to hear her thoughts in person. We’re always looking to improve our work culture and our events. We thank Alison for voicing her concern to us.”

Zimmer also contacted festival representatives via email, asking that they make a commitment to not go the sexy-model route again. Will it work? This isn’t the first time for TIFF; the opening-night party included dancers in low-cut purple glitter leotards and thigh-high black boots. Which might be viewed as an improvement over the year that Skyy Vodka was a sponsor; that party featured femme fatales in fishnets and garters, writhing in martini glasses.

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