Broad Spectrum

Toronto fest's range of year-round events adds depth

TORONTO — As this year’s Toronto Intl. Film Festival kicks off with the world premiere of Bruce Sweeney’s “Last Wedding,” a low-key but significant meeting of the cinematic minds will take place beyond the footlights. Though it’s been happening over last three years, you’re unlikely to have heard of it because it’s closed to the public, notes fest director Piers Handling.

On day one of the fest, the Toronto Intl. Film Festival Group hosts the Intl. Conference of Cinematheques, a meeting of film programmers and curators from all over the world. The fest is a perfect forum for these 50 global distributors and sales agents, most of them North American, to get together, says Handling: “It’s an agenda, idea-sharing, problem-solving session.”

The festival itself may be the largest and best-known of the Toronto Intl. Film Festival Group’s activities, but it lasts just 10 days. The group’s mandate, to celebrate excellence in film, is carried out year-round.

“It’s crucial to have a film organization that has depth and breadth,” says Handling. “We do it every way we can, 365 days a year.”

The festival group provides a series of programs aimed at getting the kind of cinema that’s not likely to make it to your local multiplex to auds across Canada and around the world. Taking the British Film Institute as its model, the group has created and maintains several archive and screening programs like Cinematheque Ontario, the Film Reference Library and Talk Cinema, which are targeted to cinephiles in the off-season.

October to August, Cinematheque Ontario screens more than 350 films through directors retrospectives, actor tributes, national cinema spotlights, thematic series and exclusive limited runs. The act even hits the road with intl. directors’ programs that go to museums and other cinemateques in the U.S. and Europe.

The Film Reference Library holds the Ontario Film Institute’s research collection as well as the personal papers of Canuck helmers Atom Egoyan, Jeremy Podeswa, Bruce McDonald and David Cronenberg, a year-round resource for scholars, students, film buffs, journalists and industry professionals.

Talk Cinema is monthly meeting of cinephiles who chew over a particular movie with filmmakers, critics and industry guests.

And, four years ago, the festival group started reaching out to kids with the Sprockets Toronto Intl. Film Festival for Children, providing two screening programs — one for school groups during the week and one for families on weekends — as well as a pic competition.

The group’s Film Circuit program circulates new and re-released independent features to 75 rural Canadian communities. Program is an association of local film orgs that promotes limited-release Canuck and international cinema that would otherwise not make it to the sticks. It takes in annual box office revenues of C$1 million ($650,000), of which homegrown films account for 30%.

“It’s a wonderful model in terms of alternate exhibition,” says Handling, “when you think that Canadian film plays just 2% of the screen time theatrically.”

The group continues to expand its activities. Last year the Screenwriter Mentorship Program came into being, helping amateur screenwriters hone their craft and familiarize themselves with the Film Reference Library by providing low-cost workshops and mentoring for about 20 scripts a year.

Looking ahead, Handling says the festival group hopes to unveil serious publications and education departments in the next couple of years. The group is also shopping around for its own building to exhibit its treasures.

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