Toronto Fest gets refreshed

More theaters, new programmers and HQ added

TORONTO — Even the world’s most prestigious film festivals need freshening up sometimes.

And with shovel firmly in the ground, and the countdown officially under way for the long-awaited Bell Lightbox, the new headquarters of the Toronto Intl. Film Festival, the fest’s coordinators are planning to inject it with some new energy.

One of the key changes will be the addition of the AMC Theaters to the roster of participating movie houses. The new 24-screen complex is at the intersection of Yonge and Dundas streets and part of Dundas Square, commonly referred to by locals as a mini-Times Square because of its massive billboards and open space. Ten of the complex’s screens will be dedicated to the festival.

The location will be the home of a new festival box office, replacing the one formerly at College Park. It’s also in the heart of the downtown core and significantly closer to the new Lightbox neighborhood than Yorkville.

“We wanted to get into Dundas Square … to get people used to the idea of being a little farther south in the city,” says the festival’s new co-director Cameron Bailey. “You’re going to be seeing us in a very visible way there.”

Dundas Square will also be used for movie screenings under the stars and concerts.

“It’s going to be a place that we hope festival-goers will congregate, will have their coffees in between screenings, read their morning papers, catch up on the trades and then head out to screenings.”

The plan adds a twist to what has been the gradual separation of industry events from public movie premieres. While the two will still intermingle, it’ll be on a much smaller scale.

Cineplex’s Varsity Theaters remains the HQ for media and industry screenings, with the older Cumberland theaters stepping in as a backup.

“This year what we’re trying to achieve is that every first-time press and industry screening is at the Varsity, and only a second screening would be at the Cumberland,” says Stefan Wirthensohn, director of sales and industry.

Wirthensohn hopes to cut down on the wasted paper that has dogged past festivals: Organizers are making digital versions of the film-rights database and industry contact lists accessible on the Web.

“We had estimates that 30% to 40% of those books would not be properly used,” he says, noting many delegates simply threw the books away. “Everybody is going online these days, so it just made sense” to make it downloadable.

Moving the database online also allowed the delegate registration deadline to be pushed back from its usual date to Aug. 27.

Other changes include opening up the Match Club to all industry folks at the 5th Element restaurant on Bay Street.

Several new leaders are stepping into key positions — most notably Bailey, who moves up to co-director after serving as a programmer for 12 years.

Taking over as Southeast Asian programmer is Raymond Phathenavirangoon, a one-time director of marketing for international sales at Fortissimo Films and international programmer of the Toronto Reel Asian Film Festival.

Bailey says, “He’s someone who’s enormously experienced and knowledgeable about the cinema of that region and has lived in Hong Kong for many years.”

Countries like the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia, says Bailey, “have been producing really interesting art cinema in a stronger way recently thanks to digital cinema,” adding that “digital cameras have really been taken up in the countries that don’t have huge budgets. They’re producing movies that are ending up in competition at major European festivals or are coming to us as world premieres.”

Also, two new programmers oversee Canadian features and short films.

Matthew Hays has worked as a film critic and reporter for the Montreal Mirror for 15 years and is taking over as Canadian features programmer.

Kathleen Mullen has programmed for various festivals and film events like the Boston Museum of Fine Arts Film Program and the Vancouver Intl. Film Festival, and is now handling the Short Cuts Canada program.


When: Sept. 4-13
Where: Toronto, Canada

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