Canada is lucky to have one of the world’s premier film festivals in its midst! Every September, TIFF brings an exciting and expertly curated lineup of films from every corner of the globe to the big screen in Toronto—ready for a passionate audience of film lovers. This year, the festival runs from September 7–17.
In 2010, TIFF opened TIFF Bell Lightbox, which features six state-of-the-art cinemas. TIFF Bell Lightbox is an essential hub for film lovers and now includes a new lounge bar on the 3rd floor, Varda (named after the great independent filmmaker Agnès Varda), which opens to the public this fall.
TIFF Bell Lightbox presents films old and new on a year-round basis, in addition to other engaging and inclusive public programming, most of it free and open to all audiences.
Additionally, TIFF’s Film Reference Library preserves Canada’s cinema heritage, provides a space for audiences to read and research film history as well as houses a vast screening collection and over 100 special artist collections.
Tell us about TIFF the film festival, and TIFF Bell Lightbox:
TIFF is the largest public film festival in North America, set in one of the most diverse cities on earth, and showcases the best of cinema from around the world. This year, approximately 70% of titles are from outside Canada and the United States. As well, over a third of this year’s films are from non-US producers, representing more than 70 different countries.
What makes the Festival so unique is TIFF’s audience—a passionate community of global film lovers from all walks of life, who appreciate independent works from around the globe, as featured in our Centrepiece, Platform, Wavelengths and Discovery programmes. Plus, TIFF’s curation and programming team is second to none. Programmers from all over the world work year-round to discover and screen films that promise to bring exceptional stories with varying perspectives to TIFF audiences.
Beyond the Festival, TIFF Bell Lightbox presents films old and new on a year-round basis, in addition to other engaging and inclusive public programming, most of it free and open to all audiences. TIFF is committed to increasing representation, celebrating diverse creative communities, and expanding access to the arts.
What makes TIFF Bell Lightbox unique?
With six state-of-the-art cinemas, TIFF Bell Lightbox is an essential hub for film lovers and now includes a new lounge bar on the 3rd floor, Varda (named after the great independent filmmaker Agnes Varda), which opens to the public this fall. Additionally, TIFF’s Film Reference Library preserves Canada’s cinema heritage, provides a space for audiences to read and research film history as well as houses a vast screening collection and over 100 special artist collections.
What sort of films does TIFF Bell Lightbox show?
In addition to the new releaseh films shown year-round, TIFF Cinematheque presents new essentials, classics, rarities, recent restorations, and more throughout the year. Special series and director retrospectives are wide-ranging, and have recently included spotlights on the Safdie brothers, Swedish filmmaker Roy Andersson, Hungarian filmmaker Márta Mészáros, and Japanese auteur Seijun Suzuki, which was part of a larger POP Japan series we presented this past summer. Alongside Cinematheque, our Public Programming team presents dynamic and accessible talks, series, screenings, workshops, exhibitions and public art activations—year-round.
What are TIFF Bell Lightbox’s greatest challenges?
One of our larger challenges is balancing TIFF’s own programming while also making our cinemas available to other film festivals and event organizers. This was especially challenging this past year while our third floor was closed for renovations. Although audience engagement levels have increased (post-pandemic), it bears repeating that audiences have changed their viewing habits over the last couple of years, with many choosing to stay home instead of going out. We’ve seen new and younger audiences since introducing our free Under 25 pass and our Member benefit of free tickets to all regularly priced Cinematheque screenings.
What are your favourite compliments that TIFF Bell Lightbox receives from your audience?
TIFF succeeds when its mission is realized: changing the way people see the world through film. That can be seen in many ways at TIFF Bell Lightbox. For example, when the Tamil community saw their story told on-screen for the Ponniyin Selvan films, with huge gatherings of family and friends coming together to see the film. On a daily basis, film lovers unite in the cinema and social spaces, with a dedicated community that follows TIFF’s Cinematheque programme, or everyday audiences watching Canadian hits or international classics. They tell us they feel welcomed at TIFF Bell Lightbox and love having a place to enjoy films with others who share their passion. Even when they don’t say anything, audience smiles (or tears) and conversation about what they’ve just seen at TIFF are a high compliment.
What’s a memorable film screening or event you hosted?
TIFF has hosted many memorable screenings and events, including last summer, when we presented the North American premiere of David Cronenberg’s acclaimed sci-fi thriller, Crimes of the Future, followed by a companion series, Crimes off the Past, a four-film TIFF Cinematheque series spotlighting Cronenberg’s earlier work. The series featured screenings of Videodrome (1983), Dead Ringers (1988), eXistenZ (1999), and two screenings of Crash (1996). For an immersive experience into his body of work, several objects and props from the David Cronenberg permanent collection in TIFF’s Film Reference Library were displayed to visitors in TIFF’s public spaces. Some of the objects on display included the Meta Flesh Pod and Umby Cord from eXistenZ, Rosanna Arquette’s full-body brace from Crash, surgical tools from Dead Ringers, and the Accumicon Spectacular Optometry International Helmet from Videodrome.
More recently, TIFF presented some of the most dynamic and high-profile Pride programming in Toronto this year featuring events with Elliot Page, Mattea Roach, and Stephen Winter. Winter’s Chocolate Babies, a seminal queer film from 1996, was curated by TIFF’s internal Queer Cluster, and was followed by a celebratory party in TIFF’s Gallery space on the ground floor of the TIFF Bell Lightbox. The event, programmed in partnership with the Black Gay Men’s Network of Ontario, included performances by Devine Darlin and Naomi Leone, and music by DJ Jelz.
What are your most popular concession items?
Our regular customers tell us we have the best popcorn in the city…and we won’t argue with that! Our concessions have all the classic movie snacks available along with beer, wine, and many more options. Our best selling candy is M&M Peanuts and our best selling beer is Peroni. Varda, the new lounge opening this October, will feature great coffee, tea, and cocktails as well as a chef-created menu of light snacks. And TIFF members receive 20%-40% discounts at concessions – so you can’t beat the price!
What projects are you considering for the future?
TIFF has been busy growing and enhancing various projects and spaces.
This fall the TIFF Film Circuit will be entering its second full year post-relaunch, with an eye towards expansion and audience development as we look to bring the best of Canadian, international, and arthouse cinema to underserved communities across the country. If you know of any film clubs, Kiwanis groups, social committees or arts organizations that are looking to bring new and exciting cinema to their community in atypical venues, we encourage you to put them in touch with the Circuit (Jamal Azeez: email@example.com)! And with the programme’s guest touring component now back up and running, the Film Circuit is laying the groundwork for multi-stop tours across Canada with filmmakers, local talent and subject matter experts as we also work to find new opportunities for eventizing and enriching film programming.
TIFF recently announced our new cafe-bar, Varda (formerly the Bell Blue Room), which is part of a full-scale transformation of TIFF’s third floor in service of our continued commitment to creating a welcoming and inspiring space for all film lovers and audiences to gather. With the bright lights of King Street West as its backdrop, Varda will be the beating heart of the building; a place for film lovers and the public to come together, be it before or after a screening or event, or just to enjoy great coffee, cocktails, food, and the inviting ambiance. Varda will be open exclusively for Contributors Circle and Patrons Circle Members during the Festival (September 7–17), before its official public launch in early fall, when it will reopen as a new destination for all guests of TIFF Bell Lightbox. TIFF’s third-floor renovation was redesigned by Toronto-based design studio DesignAgency.