A sci-fi Opening night Gala, increased Industry programmes and a film by a 103-year-old man show a festival in transition – Marc Glassman asks is TIFF reinventing itself?
By Marc Glassman
As Bob Dylan might have sung it back in the ‘60s, for TIFF, “the times they are a’changin’.” TIFF has matured from its relatively innocent days as a 10-day film culture party taking place in Yorkville. As can be expected, the festival has changed and with it, the city.
Thanks to the development of Bell Lightbox, TIFF’s Taj Mahal, Canada’s largest film festival has moved all of its main events to the downtown core around King Street. While some screenings are as far away as Ryerson’s Gerrard Street theatre and the Bloor-Hot Docs Cinema, the Galas are at Roy Thompson Hall, Special Presentations (in the main) are at the Princess of Wales Theatre and the central screening space is the Lightbox itself.
Next to the Lightbox going west is the Hyatt Regency, another important element in the new “Festival Village.” The Industry Centre is placed there, where the business of filmmaking and event producing can take place. Make no mistake, TIFF has become an important corporate citizen, ensuring that a major Doc Conference, an Asian Film Summit, and even a major interactive media conference, involving gaming can take place, close by in the Village.
Another shift is in the festival’s opening film strategy. No longer is it about programming the best Canadian film of the year. Foreign distributors objected and so did the international media that plays such an important role in promoting TIFF worldwide.
This year, the opening night film is Looper, a sci-fi thriller starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Emily Blunt and Bruce Willis. The quick witted screenplay and direction by Rian Johnson shows that this film is no commercial sell-out but it’s true that the film does move in strange directions, including a descent (or is it a homage) to previous Willis action flicks. Still, if the object is to draw the US and Europe to TIFF’s opening night, TIFF may very well succeed. And the film is fun—and occasionally, quite thoughtful.
With these changes have come branding exercises. The documentary programme is now TIFF Docs, the children’s screenings are TIFF Kids and even the Cinematheque now has TIFF as its first name.
So the sizzle has changed. What about the films? I’m happy to report that the festival continues to programme some of the most wonderful obscure and beautiful pieces of cinema. True, the films of Apitchapong Weerasethakul and Carlos Reygadas don’t get the media attention accorded to Robert Redford and Mike Newell but they’re here for the cognoscenti to see. And perhaps most delightfully, a new feature by Manoel de Oliveira, Gebo and the Shadow, is in the Masters programme. De Oliveira, you see, is 103-years-old. As long as his films still have a place at TIFF, you know that an essential element of the “times” hasn’t changed at all.