2001-2011: TIFF Gets a Home, Becomes World-Class Film Festival

By Courtney Thompson August 3, 2011, 8:45 AM EDT

Photo: BizBash

Considered the second-largest film festival in the world—behind Cannes—the 10-day Toronto International Film Festival will mark its 36th anniversary this year. In 2009, the festival showcased 336 films from 64 countries and attracted 500,000 attendees—quite a leap from the 127 films from 30 countries and 35,000 attendees back in 1976.

TIFF’s single biggest moment in the past decade, however, was the September 2010 opening of its new home, TIFF Bell Lightbox. Seven years in the making, the five-story complex offers five cinemas and abundant event space, and is now the headquarters for the festival and the organization throughout the year. For the venue’s opening night gala, Westbury National Show Systems supplied an extensive lighting installation in orange and blue (the colors of the TIFF and Bell Canada logos) and multiple video projections illuminating the streetscape and building. “It was about saying, ‘Hello, we’ve arrived.’ Everyone has been watching the building develop in stages, so it was about making a mark,” said Party Barbara’s Barbara Hershenhorn, who has produced the opening event for 27 years.

On King Street in downtown Toronto, the venue’s opening also represents a shift in the festival location, which had previously taken place in and around uptown’s Bloor Street. With the recent nearby openings of the Thompson Hotel, the Ritz-Carlton, and Charles Khabouth’s sprawling La Société, downtown event space is ample and will likely be used for the 2011 festival’s many satellite activations.

One event that is staying put uptown, however, is the annual In Style/Hollywood Foreign Press Association party, which has taken over the Windsor Arms Hotel and been produced by Spinning Top since its inception in 1999. Toronto is in fact the only film festival where In Style holds a major party. What keeps the magazine coming back? “It’s the quality of the films, the integrity of the festival, and the ambience of the city,” said In Style manager of creative development Kelly Austing, noting that guests include directors, screenwriters, and talent.

Other staple events over the years have been the opening night galas, which always take their design cues from the fest’s opening night films—past themes have included hockey (for Score: A Hockey Musical, 2010), Adam and Eve (for Creation, 2009), and the army (for Passchendaele, 2008).

Big annual events to enter the festival’s fray in the past decade include Hello! Canada’s cocktail party, which launched in 2006; Entertainment Tonight Canada’s smattering of parties and live broadcasts, which also debuted in 2006; Amfar’s fund-raiser, which came about in 2009; OneXOne’s star-studded benefit dinner, which was born in 2005 and has since morphed into a public concert; and director Paul Haggis’s Artists for Peace & Justice event, which raises funds for the children of Haiti and debuted in 2009. Add to that a bevy of gifting suites and pop-up lounges (including several helmed by the Soho House group), a slew of press junkets, premiere parties, and celebrities sweeping into town, and suddenly Toronto is giving Sundance—and Hollywood—a run for its money.

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