Co-director moves to A.D. of festival's headquarters

In a surprise executive shake-up in the upper ranks of the Toronto Intl. Film Festival, Noah Cowan has stepped down as co-director to become artistic director of Bell Lightbox, the festival group’s new headquarters.

He will be replaced by longtime fest programmer Cameron Bailey, Piers Handling, fest CEO and co-director said Wednesday. Changes come into effect Jan. 1

Jim Hamilton, who helped design and conceive the programming philosophy of Bell Lightbox over the past two years, is returning to the U.K. for personal reasons.

Bell Lightbox, which will open in late 2009, will be the fest’s year-round home, with five screening rooms, a 6,000-square-foot gallery and three studios for visiting students.

When Cowan was named fest co-director years ago, he and Handling both spoke openly about the fact that Cowan was being groomed to become director, with Handling as CEO.

Handling said that plan changed when Cowan expressed an interest in the Bell Lightbox opening. Handling added it was premature to say whether Bailey might one day become fest director.

“We’re strengthening Bell Lightbox and in no way are we weakening the film festival,” said Handling. “Noah is around and I am around. Programming is in my blood and I do want to retain a programming responsibility and role in this organization for as long as I’m here. And Noah will have to be there to mentor Cameron for the first year.”

Cowan said he was looking for a new challenge. “There’s something very exciting about building an institution up from scratch.”

Bailey has been a fest programmer for 12 years, during which time he founded the Planet Africa sidebar and headed the Perspective Canada series. In recent years, he has been responsible for selecting pics from Africa, south Asia and the Philippines.

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