Reitman gives land for fest center

Group to build 5-story building to house HQ, events

TORONTO — The Toronto Intl. Film Festival Group has ambitious plans to make its new C$120 million home, dubbed Festival Center, a world-class draw for film enthusiasts year-round, Group director Piers Handling announced here last week.

Czechoslovakia-born, Toronto bred director Ivan Reitman (“Animal House,” “Ghostbusters,”) and sibs Susan Michaels and Agi Mandel are donating the space, a parking lot located at the corner of King and John Streets in the heart of Toronto’s entertainment district, to commemorate their parents, Leslie and Clara Reitman, who purchased the land 35 years ago.

“We saw this as a good opportunity to give back to this profession, to give back to this city, to this country where we built a good life, and we saw this as a suitable tribute to our parents,” Reitman said at a Toronto press conference whose attendees included Canuck directors David Cronenberg, Don McKellar and Patricia Rozema.

The Festival Group plans in the next three years to build a five-story, 150,000-square-foot building to house its offices and operations, which in addition to the Film Festival include Cinematheque Ontario, Sprockets Toronto Intl. Film Festival for Children and the Film Reference Library.

“It was always a dream of the festival’s founders to have a building to house all our activities under one roof,” Handling tells Variety. “It was the vision of the organization to create a public space where people would enjoy cinema 52 weeks a year; something bigger than a cinema complex.”

The size of the festival itself is not expected to change, although fest organizers expect press and industry screenings will be held at the Festival Center’s five screens. A shortage of public screening space could be on the horizon, however, and if it is, Handling said fest organizers will consider moving some public screenings to the Festival Center as well.

The new HQ will allow other arms of the Festival Group to expand dramatically. The number of film events per year, including traveling cinema-related exhibitions, is projected to climb from 1,500 to 4,000, and the Group’s annual audience to grow from 500,000 to two million. The annual operating budget of the Festival Group, which today is $12 million, is expected to top the $30 million mark.

Holocaust survivors and then escapees from Communist Czechoslovakia, Leslie and Clara Reitman, with four-year-old Ivan, arrived in Canada in the mid-’50s virtually penniless and unable to speak English. Over the years, they managed to build a successful life, which included tracts of real estate around Toronto. For years, Leslie Reitman operated a car wash business on the land being donated to the fest.

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