TIFF 2014: How the filmfest manages to be all things to all people

Bono meets with fans in Toronto. (MICHAEL PEAKE/QMI AGENCY files)

Bono meets with fans in Toronto. (MICHAEL PEAKE/QMI AGENCY files)

Bruce Kirkland, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:30 AM ET


The Toronto International Film Festival succeeds in being all things to all people in cinema, showing multiple personalities. In humans, that would qualify as dissociative identity disorder and require medical care. In film festivals, finding The 300 Faces of Eve is a yearly ritual that speaks to the remarkable diversity of programming.

Consider the contrasts. The 39th edition of the festival officially launches Thursday with David Dobkin’s family drama The Judge, co-starring Robert Downey Jr. and Robert Duvall. The Downey-Duvall pairing is a mainstream powerhouse that will please the corporate crowd attending the red carpet Gala at Roy Thomson Hall. At the other extreme, Midnight Madness is an orgy of blood, sex, violence and vampire shenanigans that will lure gonzo geeks out of their basements for movies such as this year’s primo selection, New Zealand’s blood-sucking mockumentary What We Do in the Shadows.

“It was never meant to be one vision of the director of the festival,” filmfest director Piers Handling says in an interview on the eve of his 11-day event. “I won’t take credit for that. I actually think it goes back to Bill Marshall (one of the trio of co-founders with Dusty Cohl and Henk van der Kolk) and their original vision and mission for the festival. It was very much to touch on cinema in all its diversity. All you had to do is take it and not screw it up.”

Handling is convinced that the 21 people who now program the festival — including himself and artistic director Cameron Bailey — represent a collection of individual voices with no prejudices. “I don’t think we have a snobbish elitist attitude towards it. We love popular cinema as much as we do the other arthouse stuff. So our tastes have always moved in all those directions. We have always been just as interested in crazy midnight slasher movies as we were in Hou Hsiao-Hsien, Robert Bresson and Jean-Luc Godard.

“It’s kind of an interesting balance to have. It means we’re less focused, I think. It’s harder to determine who we are. Some of the other festivals, for me, have a clearer identity. Whereas our identity is: We love cinema in all its manifestations and we can find interesting things to seriously examine in what other people would consider just ‘B’ movies.”

Handling’s team is on-board. “Our size is our biggest strength,” says director of programming Kerri Craddock. “It is also our biggest challenge in many ways. But part of our size is our diversity and the strength is all the different voices behind the selection of films.”

Those voices have autonomy — to a point — says Craddock. Canadian features programmer Agata Smoluch Del Sorbo finds that liberating. “The set-up we have at TIFF is amazing,” she says, adding that a key component is championing filmmakers. “I think it’s really important to take territorial risks. I want to find really strong voices and some of those voices are really controversial. They don’t appeal to everyone but, once the film is in the festival, it is amazing how those voices find their audience.”

For Thom Powers, who programs TIFF Docs, TIFF is a multiple festival. “I think it is several festivals happening at once,” he says, referring to the range from experimental films in Wavelengths to the docs to Colin Geddes’ cult selections in Midnight Madness. “There are several tents under one big tent.”

Twitter: @Bruce_Kirkland

bruce.kirkland@sunmedia.ca


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