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Toronto: Festival Director Piers Handling on His Jam-Packed Days and Nights

TIFF’s honcho Piers Handling seldom sees a movie at the festival. Over the course of 25 years, he’s seen three, he recalls, due to his nonstop, intensive days of meeting, greeting and problem-solving as director and CEO of TIFF. He begins his day at breakfast at the Ritz-Carlton Toronto’s Club Level.

The hotel is his home through the run of the fest. His nights are jam-packed and end after late, late party rounds, he says. This year he’s got one film on his docket: “Vertigo” screens with a live accompaniment from the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. “I’ll be there for that,” he promises.

Describe your festival day.
Breakfast in the Ritz-Carlton hotel: I catch up with the newspapers and trades. Then I’m off to the office to check in with various departments. Often there are meetings and lunches with key people — juries, guests. And then the intense part starts at 5 p.m. I return to the hotel around 4 p.m., shower and change into my Hugo Boss outfits. And the intros to the film start around 6 p.m. and I leapfrog from those (as many as six or seven a night) to cocktails, parties and dinners, often ending up in a bar hanging with filmmakers until the early hours.

Since your start, what’s been the biggest change at TIFF?
Owning our own building, and turning it from a 10-day event into a year-round programming institution with reach around the world.

What are you really proud of?
Opening the TIFF Bell Lightbox in 2010. Seeing the festival turn into the must-attend event that it is. Watching Cinematheque grow into the most respected screening program in the world. TIFF Kids. Advocating for the filmmakers I think are really important artists. And I thought we handled 9/11 really well. You’re never prepared for something like this to happen.

Which TIFF venue do you prefer?
The Visa Screening Room at the Elgin Theatre: a beautiful, art deco theater that is large, but also warm and intimate, and I have many, many fond memories of films I have introduced there.

What’s new at TIFF this year?
We are launching two new film programs: Platform and Primetime. Platform is a juried section of 12 films, which focuses on bold, innovative international cinema made by young and mid-career filmmakers who deserve more attention. Primetime focuses on long-form, episodic television, which is where many filmmakers are gravitating, and which has provided some memorable work recently.

Which one has the best on-the-go snacks?
O&B Canteen in the TIFF Bell Lightbox.

Where do you recommend for after hours?
Soho House and the Spoke Club

Which are your favorite festival-close lunch spots?
Montecito Restaurant (co-owned with helmer-producer Ivan Reitman) and Kit Kat Italian Bar & Grill

And what is your best tip for a great festival experience?
Take chances. See films you will never see again — and be open.

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