Toronto International Film Festival

From New World Encyclopedia
Toronto International Film Festival
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LocationToronto, Ontario, Canada

The Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF, often stylized as tiff) is one of the largest publicly attended film festivals in the world. Since its founding in 1976, TIFF has grown to become a permanent destination for film culture operating out of the TIFF Bell Lightbox, located in Downtown Toronto, Canada. Year-round, the TIFF Bell Lightbox offers screenings, lectures, discussions, festivals, workshops, industry support, and the chance to meet filmmakers from Canada and around the world. TIFF is held from the Thursday night after Labour Day (the first Monday in September in Canada), continuing for eleven days.

Founded in 1976, TIFF is now one of the largest and most prestigious events of its kind in the world, one of the "Big Five" worldwide, which include the European Cannes, Berlin, and Venice festivals, alongside the Sundance Film Festival in the United States. The Festival is known for enthusiastic audiences who have unprecedented levels of access to filmmakers, exchanging ideas about the art and business of film making.


Founded in 1976, TIFF is known for the celebrity buzz it brings to the area with international media setting up near its restaurants and stores for photos and interviews with the stars. In 2010, TIFF opened its permanent headquarters, TIFF Bell Lightbox, a year-round home for the appreciation of film in the heart of downtown Toronto, although TIFF films are still screened at a wider variety of venues, including the Scotiabank Theatre Toronto, rather than exclusively at the Lightbox.

TIFF's mission is:

to transform the way people see the world through film. TIFF is dedicated to presenting the best of international and Canadian cinema and creating transformational experiences for film lovers and creators of all ages and backgrounds.[1]

First Festival

The Toronto International Film Festival was first launched as the Toronto Festival of Festivals, collecting the best films from other film festivals around the world and showing them to eager audiences in Toronto. It was founded by Bill Marshall, Dusty Cohl, and Henk Van der Kolk,[2] at the Windsor Arms Hotel:

The Windsor Arms is where the festival was born and each year for the last 30 years the Windsor Arms was and continues to be an integral part of the film festival.[3]

Van der Kolk described how it started:

All Bill and I wanted to make was feature films. Making a feature was a bit of an uphill battle in this country: you didn’t make feature films, you went to see American feature films. We needed to get noticed. How the hell do we get the world to realize we’re here, and how do we get a Canadian film industry? That’s why it started, really.[4]

The inaugural event took place from October 18 through 24, 1976. That first year, 35,000 filmgoers watched 140 films from 30 countries.[5] Ironically, however, Hollywood studios withdrew their submissions from TIFF due to concerns that Toronto audiences would be too parochial for their products.[6]

Growth of the Festival

From that first success, the Festival grew, steadily adding initiatives throughout the years. In 1994, the name was changed to "Toronto International Film Festival" (TIFF), and the umbrella organization responsible for the Festival was named the "Toronto International Film Festival Group" (TIFFG).[5]

TIFF Cinematheque (formerly Cinematheque Ontario) and the Film Reference Library (FRL) opened in 1990. Film Circuit began exhibiting independent and Canadian films in under-serviced cities across Canada in 1994. The TIFF Kids International Film Festival (formerly Sprockets) launched in 1998. The festival also organized the TIFF Film Circuit, a program which partners with local organizations in other Canadian towns and cities to present screenings of films that have previously been shown at TIFF.

In 2009, the umbrella organization TIFFG was renamed to TIFF.[5]

Originally located in the Yorkville neighborhood, the festival relocated to the revitalized Toronto Entertainment District, based primarily in its custom built TIFF Bell Lightbox.[7]

The relocation allowed the Festival to rediscover its character as a social event, with attendees easily congregating in the dedicated space. Co-director Cameron Bailey commented:

One of the things that I really loved about the festival in the early years was that it was really social event, and it was a walking festival. You could run into people on the streets... as we got bigger we expanded from Bloor-Yorkville to a wider part of the city. This year, it feels like, with the new building, we're going to be able to build back some of that more tightly focused experience.[7]

Although many locations for the Festival moved to the Entertainment District in Toronto,[8] TIFF has maintained extensive connections with the Yorkville area.[9]

Recent Festivals and COVID

In 2017, TIFF organizers announced a renewed commitment to "bold, discerning curation," reducing the number of films screened compared to the 2016 festival.[10] reducing the overall number of titles screened by 20 per cent. Commenting on the changes, Cameron Bailey, artistic director of TIFF, said:

We’re committed to art-house cinema, we’re committed to international film, we’re a global film festival. We have programmers who are looking for movies all over the world. That will continue. What we’ve heard is that people love the selection but it can be overwhelming, if you’re trying to do the festival fully, especially as a working professional. It’s really hard to cover everything that we have and we thought we can find a way to bring a tighter curation to the festival, to really go after the films we love the most and to make it a little bit easier to navigate.[11]

In 2019, the festival opened with Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and The Band, the first time the festival ever opened with a Canadian documentary film.[12]

The 2020 version announced that it would be both in-person and virtual due to the COVID-19 pandemic. While initially film screenings would be "masks optional," due to a surge in COVID-19 cases in Toronto, this was changed to require fest-goers to wear face coverings during all in-person movie viewing at its Bell Lightbox multiplex. With its concession stands closed, no food or drink was to be consumed and masks were to remain in place for the entirety of the time in the Lightbox.[13]

In 2022 the Festival returned in person in Toronto from September 8–18.[14] While online screenings continued on the digital platform, the focus of TIFF 2022 was bringing audiences together in person.[15]

In 2016, the festival received a donation of 1,400 film prints, and launched a campaign to raise money for the preservation and storage of the films.[16]

TIFF Bell Lightbox

TIFF Bell Lightbox

In 2007, the Festival Group began construction on TIFF Bell Lightbox, a new facility at the corner of King and John Streets in downtown Toronto, on land donated by Ivan Reitman and family. The $181 million facility is named for founding sponsor Bell Canada, with additional support from the Government of Ontario and Government of Canada.

Bell Lightbox is the cultural centerpiece and home to TIFF programming outside festival dates.

The organization opened its new headquarters at TIFF Bell Lightbox in 2010. The facility, designed by local firm Kuwambara Payne McKenna Blumberg (KPMB) Architects, provides extensive year-round galleries, cinemas, archives, and activities for cinephiles.[17] The five-storey facility contains five cinemas, two gallery spaces, film archives and an extensive reference library, study spaces, film lab facility, and a research center. There is also a gift shop, two restaurants, a lounge, a cafe, and a three-storey atrium.[18] There is a 42-storey condominium atop, called the Festival Tower. The complex was developed by the Daniels Corporation in conjunction with world renowned Czech-Canadian filmmaker Ivan Reitman and his sisters.[19]

The Film Reference Library (FRL) is a large Canadian film research collection. The library is a free resource for film lovers, filmmakers, students, scholars, and journalists, and is located on the fourth floor of the TIFF Bell Lightbox. An affiliate member of the International Federation of Film Archives (FIAF), the FRL is dedicated to preserving Canadian cinema heritage and promoting cinema scholarship by collecting, preserving, and providing access to a comprehensive, non-circulating collection of reference resources, as well as film and archival materials. [20]

The Festival today

The success of TIFF can be attributed to its unique combination of two parallel festivals: one for a large audience of cinephiles, and the other geared to the media and the film industry, as well as the festival's ability and reputation for generating "Oscar buzz."[21]

Variety acknowledged in 1998 that TIFF "is second only to Cannes in terms of high-profile pics, stars, and market activity," and in 2007, Time noted that TIFF had "grown from its place as the most influential fall film festival to the most influential film festival, period."[22]

TIFF is now one of the largest and most prestigious events of its kind in the world.[23] It is one of the "Big Five" worldwide, which include the European Cannes, Berlin, and Venice festivals, alongside the Sundance Film Festival in the United States.[24]

Many Hollywood studios premiere their films in Toronto due to TIFF's easy-going non-competitive nature, relatively inexpensive costs (when compared to European festivals), eager film-fluent audiences and convenient timing. Quentin Tarantino declared, when he opened his film at TIFF, "The No. 1 thing about the Toronto film fest — and it's become a cliche but it actually is true — is it's just the best audiences in the world." [25]

Films such as American Beauty, Ray, Mr. Nobody, 127 Hours, Black Swan, The Five Obstructions, Singapore Sling, and I Am Love premiered at TIFF. Jamie Foxx's portrayal of Ray Charles ultimately won him the Academy Award for Best Actor while Slumdog Millionaire which screened at TIFF after its world premiere at the Telluride Film Festival went on to win eight Oscars at the 2009 Academy Awards, while Silver Linings Playbook, the winner of the 2012 TIFF People's Choice Award, went on to win the Academy Award for Best Actress for Jennifer Lawrence.


The festival's major prize, the People's Choice Award, is given to a feature-length film. It is not a juried prize, but is given to the film with the highest ratings as voted by the TIFF-going populace. Since 2020 festival, which was conducted primarily on an online streaming platform due to the COVID-19 pandemic, People's Choice voting is also conducted online; voters' e-mail addresses are cross-referenced against online ticket registrations to ensure that the vote could not be manipulated by people who had not actually seen the films, or voted multiple times.[26] Past recipients of this award include Oscar-winning films, such as Life Is Beautiful (1998), American Beauty (1999), Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000), Slumdog Millionaire (2008), Precious (2009), The King's Speech (2010), 12 Years a Slave (2013), La La Land (2016), Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017), Green Book (2018), Jojo Rabbit (2019), and Nomadland (2020).

People's Choice Awards are also presented for Documentary and Midnight Madness films.

TIFF presents juried awards in some other categories. The festival presents three major awards for Canadian films: Best Canadian Film, Best Canadian First Feature Film, and Best Canadian Short Film, as well as awards for Best International Short Film, two FIPRESCI-sponsored International Critics' Prizes for the Special Presentation and Discovery programs, and a NETPAC Prize for the best film from Asia having its world premiere at the festival.

In 2015, the festival introduced Platform, a juried program that champions director's cinema from around the world; one film from the stream is selected as the winner of the Platform Prize.

In 2018, the festival introduced the TIFF Tribute Awards, a gala ceremony at which distinguished actors and filmmakers are honored for their lifetime career achievements. For 2019, TIFF announced two new awards, the TIFF Impact Award to honor production companies for work that has had an impact on the film industry, and the Mary Pickford Award to honor an emerging female filmmaker.[27]


The hundreds of films screened at the annual festival are divided into sections (referred to by TIFF as "Programmes") based on genre (e.g. documentary, children's films), format (e.g. short films, television episodes), the status of filmmaker (e.g. "masters", first-time directors), and so forth. Up until the early 2010s there were sections reserved for Canadian films, but beginning in 2015 all Canadian films are integrated in sections with films from outside Canada.

The festival's 14 sections are as follows:[10]

  • Contemporary World Cinema: narrative feature films by established directors
  • Discovery: films that are typically the director's first or second feature film
  • Gala Presentations: high-profile feature films, often featuring international movie stars, presented with a red carpet
  • In Conversation With...: interviews of a director or other figure from the film industry, generally accompanied by brief excerpts from films (up until the 2014 festival, this section was called "Mavericks")
  • Masters: feature films by "the world's most influential art-house filmmakers"
  • Midnight Madness: genre films (traditionally at TIFF each film in this section has one screening scheduled for 11:59pm and another the following afternoon); the section was launched at TIFF in 1988
  • Platform: a competitive section launched in 2015, named for Jia Zhangke's film Platform, of films from around the world that do not have distribution in North America.Every year the Platform section has a high-profile international jury which confers the C$25,000 Platform Prize; both documentaries and narrative films are eligible for inclusion in the section.
  • Primetime: television episodes making either their world premiere or North American premiere projected cinematically; this section was launched in 2015
  • Short Cuts: a section of short films (usually six to ten short films included at each screening) both Canadian and international; up until the 2013 festival only Canadian short films were screened and the section was called Short Cuts Canada, in 2014 a new section called Short Cuts International was added, and then in 2015 they were merged into a section called Short Cuts
  • Special Presentations: high-profile feature films, usually Canadian premieres if not world premieres
  • TIFF Cinematheque: unlike the other sections which present new films, the TIFF Cinematheque section has films from all eras of cinema, often classic films that have been newly restored
  • TIFF Docs (formerly called Reel to Reel): documentary films
  • TIFF Kids and TIFF Next Wave (formerly called Sprockets): films for children and teenagers; however, this is not a dedicated program in its own right, but a designation added to youth-suitable films that are already in one of the other programs.
  • Wavelengths: experimental films and art films, both feature-length and shorts (this section was named for Michael Snow's film Wavelength)

In previous years, sections at TIFF have included Perspectives Canada, Canada First!, City to City (2009 to 2016), Future Projections, Vanguard (up to 2016), and Visions (up to 2011).

Canada's Top Ten

Each year, TIFF releases a Canada's Top Ten list of the films selected by a poll of festival programmers across Canada as the ten best Canadian feature and short films of the year, regardless of whether or not they were screened at TIFF.[28]

Previously, the winning films were screened at a smaller follow-up "Canada's Top Ten" festival at the Lightbox the following January, with a People's Choice Award then presented for that minifestival. In 2018, TIFF announced a change, under which instead of a dedicated festival, each Top Ten film will receive its own standalone week-long theatrical run at the Lightbox throughout the year. Cameron Bailey explained: "We’re still making the list of films, so that doesn’t change at all. It’s really just how those films get delivered to audiences.”[29]

Since 1984, every decade TIFF has also produced a Top 10 Canadian Films of All Time list. This list is produced from a wider poll of film industry professionals and academics throughout Canada, separately from the annual top-ten list.


  1. Our Mission TIFF. Retrieved December 30, 2022.
  2. Peter Goffin, TIFF co-founder Bill Marshall, 77, remembered as pioneer of Canadian film Toronto Star, January 1, 2017. Retrieved December 20, 2022.
  3. Philip Stavrou, Film Festival events return to their roots CTVglobemedia, September 12, 2005. Retrieved December 20, 2022.
  4. Daniel McIntosh, A Brief History of TIFF CanCultur, September 17, 2017. Retrieved December 20, 2022.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 TIFF History TIFF. Retrieved December 26, 2022.
  6. David Sterritt, Film Festivals — Then and Now FIPRESCI, 2010. Retrieved December 26, 2022.
  7. 7.0 7.1 Raju Mudhar, From mega clubs to mega culture in Entertainment District Toronto Star, August 25, 2010. Retrieved December 26, 2022.
  8. Kate Allen, TIFF's great migration Toronto Star, August 24, 2011. Retrieved December 27, 2022.
  9. Film Festival Season Returns to Yorkville at Four Seasons Hotel Toronto Four Seasons, September 6, 2022. Retrieved December 27, 2022.
  10. 10.0 10.1 TIFF Unveils 2017 Programmes & Programmers TIFF, February 23, 2017. Retrieved December 27, 2022.
  11. Victoria Ahearn, TIFF downscales for 2017 Toronto Star, February 23, 2017. Retrieved December 27, 2022.
  12. New documentary Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and The Band to open TIFF 2019 CBC News, July 18, 2019. Retrieved December 27, 2022.
  13. Etan Vlessing, Toronto Film Fest Reverses Controversial Face Mask Policy The Hollywood Reporter, September 9, 2020. Retrieved December 27, 2022.
  14. TIFF 2022 TIFF. Retrieved December 20, 2022.
  15. About Festival 2022 Film Freeway. Retrieved December 20, 2022.
  16. TIFF gains cach of 1,400 film prints Toronto Star, November 17, 2016, November 16, 2016. Retrieved December 27, 2022.
  17. Guy Dixon, Lightbox aims to draw filmmakers to its facilities The Globe and Mail, September 9, 2010. Retrieved December 27, 2022.
  18. Norman Wilner, Let there be lightbox NOW, September 9, 2010. Retrieved December 27, 2022.
  19. The Building My Festival Tower Condo. Retrieved December 27, 2022.
  20. Film Reference Library TIFF. Retrieved December 27, 2022.
  21. Oscar Buzz Starts at the Toronto International Film Festival Toronto Magazine. Retrieved December 27, 2022.
  22. Best Film Festivals in 2022: The Top 15 Best Film Festivals in the World Filmmaking Lifestyle. Retrieved December 27, 2022.
  23. Toronto Film Festival: Why the festival matters BBC News, September 4, 2013. Retrieved December 27, 2022.
  24. Marijke de Valck, Brendan Kredell, and Skadi Loist (eds.), Film Festivals: History, Theory, Method, Practice (Routledge, 2016, ISBN 978-0415712477).
  25. TIFF unspools with celebrities eager to connect with fans CTVNews, September 8, 2009. Retrieved December 27, 2022.
  26. TIFF People's Choice Award TIFF. Retrieved December 27, 2022.
  27. Marc Malkin, Toronto Film Festival Expands Tribute Gala With New Awards Variety, June 27, 2019. Retrieved December 27, 2022.
  28. Jake Nothdurft, Canada's Top Ten TIFF, December 8, 2022. Retrieved December 27, 2022.
  29. Radheyan Simonpillai, TIFF scraps popular Canada’s Top Ten Film Festival Now, November 7, 2018. Retrieved December 27, 2022.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • de Valck, Marijke, Brendan Kredell, and Skadi Loist (eds.). Film Festivals: History, Theory, Method, Practice. Routledge, 2016. ISBN 978-0415712477
  • de Valck, Marijke, and Antoine Damiens (eds.). Rethinking Film Festivals in the Pandemic Era and After. Palgrave Macmillan, 2023. ISBN 978-3031141706
  • Wong, Cindy Hing-Yuk. Film Festivals: Culture, People, and Power on the Global Screen. Rutgers University Press, 2011. ISBN 978-0813550657

External links

All links retrieved May 1, 2023.


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