Things are changing at the Toronto International Film Festival, but a very familiar face remains at the helm. Cameron Bailey, who for the last three decades has been a major force at the organization, is stepping up to lead TIFF as CEO with a charge to prep the festival for the future and focus on a strategy of engaging audiences more widely and more often. Bailey, who got his start as a programmer before becoming creative director, most recently shared co-head leadership duties with Joana Vicente for over three years. Vicente left TIFF in December for the top post at the Sundance Institute.
News of Bailey’s appointment by the TIFF board comes after the board on Monday announced that Jeffrey Remedios, the chairman and CEO of Universal Music Canada, has replaced Jennifer Tory as TIFF board chair. TIFF leaders bill Remedios, who has served on the board for five years, as a business leader skilled at navigating digital transformations while promoting independent thinkers. Bailey leads with his passion for cinema and deep institutional knowledge, but he told IndieWire’s Anne Thompson he plans to guide the organization into its fifth decade with his mind open to the possibilities brought by a rapidly changing industry.
“It is a big job, I am definitely taking that seriously. I’ll have oversight over the whole organization, I’ll be closer to the things that I hadn’t been as close to, when Joana had primary responsibility for those,” Bailey said. “I spent 25 years as a programmer and co-director and artistic director and now co-head and had a chance to learn a lot about the organization and the people who help run it. I have a unique understanding to when Piers Handling, when I first joined TIFF, and Helga Stephenson was in charge. I want to be able to draw from that history without being bound by it.”
Bailey, who grew up in England and Barbados before moving to Canada, began his career as a film critic before joining TIFF as a seasonal programmer in 1990. For 20 years he worked as both critic and programmer. He headed the festival’s Perspective Canada program and in 1995 founded its celebrated Planet Africa section, which ran for 10 years with a focus on films from Africa and the African diaspora.
He was named festival co-director in 2008 and artistic director in 2012. He continued in that role and in 2018 took the helm of the organization as co-head, alongside Vicente, after the departure of Handling, who was CEO for over two decades.
Vicente previously served as executive director of the Independent Filmmaker Project (now The Gotham Film & Media Institute). She brought experience generating revenue, operating a nonprofit, and handling HR matters, skills that she helped build in Bailey during their time working together. Bailey had conversations with Remedios and Tory and all agreed Bailey has the right skills and background to head TIFF solo, he said.
“I could not be more assured in my first act as chair representing the TIFF board in the appointment of Cameron Bailey as CEO,” Remedios said. “Cameron is a luminary in the global film industry and his committed leadership, strategic perspective and unparalleled passion has already built an essential foundation for this organization. There is no one better suited to drive TIFF forward. His immeasurable depth of cinematic knowledge, his astute understanding of this ever-changing industry and the evolving technologies that impact the way we share stories through film will shape TIFF’s future, and I look forward to supporting his vision for years to come.”
In the near term, TIFF — like every other film organization — is grappling with charting a path forward amid a pandemic that has roiled the theatrical experience and advanced the industry’s embrace of streaming. Shorter theatrical windows and an unpredictable sales landscape are two factors that Bailey will be faced with during his leadership.
The 2020 installment of TIFF was largely a virtual affair, but the festival maintained its status as a launchpad for awards players with titles like “Nomadland” and “One Night in Miami.” This year’s festival saw a more robust return of in-person programming with presentations of “Belfast,” “Dune,” and “Spencer,” though most industry players tuned in from home in an experience that failed to harness the energy TIFF is known for.
“In terms of the challenges in the shadow of the pandemic, we all understood what happens when we couldn’t gather people in large numbers in the same way in 2020,” said Bailey, “and we were still challenged this past year. We learned how to respond to that, and I’m excited and hoping to bring large numbers of people together again while still reaching out to people beyond Toronto with our digital platform. We’ll continue with that even if we do things differently. So many movies break out because of audience reaction in the room, we want to protect that, we want people there to witness it. As people are watching more things at home, that has changed things as well. Digital is part of our world, we have to take that into account. There’s that human element when people come together to share that experience, setting the stage for that in the best possible way.”
Bailey is bullish that festivals will remain a key part of launching movies into the world. “As to the direction, I want to make sure the festival is set up for the future, relevance is important in maintaining that special something at a festival based on audience reactions,” he said.
He also said that TIFF under his leadership will continue building out its year-round local programming at the TIFF Bell Lightbox and online. Up next, it’s hosting the world premiere of Guillermo del Toro’s “Nightmare Alley” on December 1, held in conjunction with a red-carpet premiere in New York and simultaneous screening in Los Angeles — Bailey says to expect more of that. And Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Licorice Pizza” will have an exclusive 70mm run at the Lightbox for two weeks ahead of its Canadian release on December 24. “70mm, you can’t get at home on your couch. Some things you only get in a movie theater,” Bailey said.
In addition to Tory’s departure, the TIFF board announced other changes Monday. Departing are Cineplex CEO Ellis Jacob, Bell Canada executive Wade Oosterman, arts leader Shabin Mohamed, venture capitalist Francis Shen, L’Oréal exec Frank Kollmar, and executive Geoff Beattie.
New to the board are Royal Bank of Canada Chief Marketing Officer Mary DePaoli, filmmaker Danis Goulet, Wattpad co-founder Allen Lau, Bell Chief Brand Officer Devorah Lithwick, and Elevation Pictures co-president Laurie May.