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Toronto International Film Festival
Toronto International Film Festival

The Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF, often stylized as tiff) is one of the largest publicly attended film festivals in the world, attracting over 480,000 people annually. Since its founding in 1976, TIFF has grown to become a permanent destination for film culture operating out of the TIFF Bell Lightbox, located in downtown Toronto. TIFF's mission is "to transform the way people see the world through film."[2]

Year-round, the TIFF Bell Lightbox offers screenings, lectures, discussions, festivals, workshops, industry support, and the chance to meet filmmakers from Canada and around the world. TIFF Bell Lightbox is located on the north west corner of King Street and John Street in downtown Toronto.

In 2016, 397 films from 83 countries were screened at 28 screens in downtown Toronto venues, welcoming an estimated 480,000 attendees, over 5,000 of whom were industry professionals.[3] TIFF starts the Thursday night after Labour Day (the first Monday in September in Canada) and lasts for eleven days.

Founded in 1976, TIFF is now one of the largest and most prestigious events of its kind in the world.[4] In 1998, Variety magazine acknowledged that TIFF "is second only to Cannes in terms of high-profile pics, stars, and market activity". In 2007, Time noted that TIFF had "grown from its place as the most influential fall film festival to the most influential film festival, period".[5] This is partially the result of the festival's ability and reputation for generating "Oscar buzz".[6]

The festival's People's Choice Award—which is based on audience balloting—has emerged as an indicator of success during awards season, especially at the Academy Awards. Past recipients of this award include Oscar-winning films, such as Life Is Beautiful (1998), American Beauty (1999), Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000), Slumdog Millionaire (2008), The King's Speech (2010), 12 Years a Slave (2013), The Imitation Game (2014), Room (2015), La La Land (2016), Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017), and Green Book (2018).

The festival's current executive director and co-head is Joana Vicente.[7] The festival's artistic director and co-head is Cameron Bailey.[8]

The 2019 Toronto International Film Festival began on 5 September and finished on 15 September.[9]


The Toronto International Film Festival was first launched as the Toronto Festival of Festivals, collecting the best films from other film festivals around the world and showing them to eager audiences in Toronto. Founded by Bill Marshall, Dusty Cohl, and Henk Van der Kolk,[10] the inaugural event took place from October 18 through 24, 1976. That first year, 35,000 filmgoers watched 127 films from 30 countries presented in ten programmes. Piers Handling has been the festival's director and CEO since 1994, while Noah Cowan became co-director of TIFF in 2004. In late 2007, Cowan became the artistic director of TIFF Bell Lightbox, while longtime programmer Cameron Bailey succeeded as co-director. As of 2013, Bailey is now the artistic director of the Toronto International Film Festival, as well as TIFF Bell Lightbox's year round programming.[11]

TIFF was once centred on the Yorkville neighbourhood, but the Toronto Entertainment District later gained a greater level of prominence.[12][13] TIFF is known for the celebrity buzz it brings to the area with international media setting up near its restaurants and stores for photos and interviews with the stars. In 2010, TIFF opened its permanent headquarters, TIFF Bell Lightbox, a year-round home for the appreciation of film in the heart of downtown Toronto, although TIFF films are still screened at a wider variety of venues, including the Scotiabank Theatre Toronto, rather than exclusively at the Lightbox.

TIFF has grown, steadily adding initiatives throughout the years. TIFF Cinematheque (formerly Cinematheque Ontario) and the Film Reference Library (FRL) opened in 1990. The TIFF Kids International Film Festival (formerly Sprockets) launched in 1998. Film Circuit began exhibiting independent and Canadian films in under-serviced cities across Canada in 1994.


The festival was founded in 1976 at the Windsor Arms Hotel by Bill Marshall, Henk Van der Kolk and Dusty Cohl.[14] Beginning as a collection of the best-regarded films from film festivals around the world, it had an inaugural attendance of 35,000.[15] Ironically, however, Hollywood studios withdrew their submissions from TIFF due to concerns that Toronto audiences would be too parochial for their products.[16]

In 1994, the decision was made to replace the name "Festival of Festivals" with "Toronto International Film Festival". From 1994 to 2009, the umbrella organization running TIFF was named "Toronto International Film Festival Group" (TIFFG). In 2009, the umbrella organization TIFFG was renamed to TIFF.[17]

In 2001, Perspective Canada, the programme that had focused on Canadian films since 1984, was replaced by two programmes:

  • Canada First!, a forum for Canadian filmmakers presenting their first feature-length work, featuring eight to 15 films, and
  • Short Cuts Canada, which includes 30-40 Canadian short films.

In 2004, TIFF was featured as the site of murder mystery in the film Jiminy Glick in Lalawood, a comedy film starring Martin Short.

In 2007, it was announced that the organization generates an estimated annual impact of $67 million CAD.[18] By 2011, that benefit had grown to $170 million CAD.[19]

In 2008, Rose McGowan caused controversy at a TIFF press conference for her film Fifty Dead Men Walking, when she noted that "I imagine, had I grown up in Belfast, I would 100% have been in the IRA."[20]

In 2009, TIFF's decision to spotlight films from Tel Aviv created a controversy with protesters, saying it was part of an attempt to re-brand Israel[21] in a positive light after the January 2009 Gaza War.[22][23][24][25]

In 2017, TIFF reduced the number of films screened compared to the 2016 festival[26] with 255 feature-length films in 2017 vs about 400 films in 2016, and also eliminate two venues that had been used in prior years.[27]

In 2019, it was reported that due to a request from its owner, Cineplex Entertainment, no TIFF films distributed by subscription video-on-demand services (specifically Amazon Video and Netflix) are being screened at Scotiabank Theatre—which has been considered the "primary" venue of the festival.[28]

Films such as American Beauty, Ray, Mr. Nobody, 127 Hours, Black Swan, The Five Obstructions, Singapore Sling, and I Am Love have premiered at TIFF. Jamie Foxx's portrayal of Ray Charles ultimately won him the Academy Award for Best Actor while Slumdog Millionaire went on to win eight Oscars at the 2009 Academy Awards. Precious, which won the 2009 TIFF People's Choice Award, went on to win two Oscars at the 82nd Academy Awards. The King's Speech, the winner of the 2010 TIFF People's Choice Award, won four Oscars at the 83rd Academy Awards, while Silver Linings Playbook, the winner of the 2012 TIFF People's Choice Award, went on to win the Academy Award for Best Actress for Jennifer Lawrence. In 2019, the festival opened with Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and The Band, the first-ever opening with a Canadian Documentary premier.[29]

Many Hollywood studios premiere their films in Toronto due to TIFF's easy-going non-competitive nature, relatively inexpensive costs (when compared to European festivals), eager film-fluent audiences and convenient timing.[30][31][32]

In 2007, the Festival Group began construction on TIFF Bell Lightbox, a new facility at the corner of King and John Streets in downtown Toronto, on land donated by Ivan Reitman and family. The $181 million facility is named for founding sponsor Bell Canada, with additional support from the Government of Ontario and Government of Canada.

In 2010, the organization opened its new headquarters at TIFF Bell Lightbox. The facility, designed by local firm KPMB Architects, provides extensive year-round galleries, cinemas, archives and activities for cinephiles.[33] The five-storey facility contains five cinemas, two gallery spaces, film archives and an extensive reference library, study spaces, film lab facility, and a research centre. There is also a gift shop, two restaurants, a lounge, a cafe, and a three-storey atrium.[34] Cooperatively with Daniels Corporation, there is a 46-storey condominium atop, called the Festival Tower.

The first film screening was Bruce McDonald's Trigger. The first exhibition was a retrospective on Tim Burton, organized by the Museum of Modern Art (New York). Subsequent exhibitions include Fellini: Spectacular Obsessions, Grace Kelly: From Movie Star to Princess, Designing 007: 50 Years of Bond Style, and Stanley Kubrick: The Exhibition, all of which were organized by TIFF, as well as one called Essential Cinema, featuring posters, images and props from TIFF's The Essential 100 list of films.[35][36]

The Film Reference Library (FRL) is a large Canadian film research collection. The library is a free resource for film lovers, filmmakers, students, scholars, and journalists, and is located on the fourth floor of the TIFF Bell Lightbox. An affiliate member of the International Federation of Film Archives (FIAF), the FRL promotes Canadian and global film scholarship by collecting, preserving, and providing access to a comprehensive collection of film prints, and film-related reference resources (including books, periodicals, scripts, research files, movies, press kits, and about 80 special collections.

In 2016, the festival received a donation of 1,400 film prints, and launched a campaign to raise money for the preservation and storage of the films.[37]

Each year, TIFF also releases a Canada's Top Ten list of the films selected by festival programmers as the ten best Canadian feature and short films of the year, regardless of whether or not they were screened at TIFF.[38] The films selected are announced in December each year.

Previously, the winning films were screened at a smaller follow-up "Canada's Top Ten" festival at the Lightbox the following January, with a People's Choice Award then presented for that minifestival as well.[38] In 2018, TIFF announced a change, under which instead of a dedicated festival, each Top Ten film will receive its own standalone theatrical run at the Lightbox throughout the year.[39]

Since 1984, every decade TIFF has also produced a Top 10 Canadian Films of All Time list. This list is produced from a wider poll of film industry professionals and academics throughout Canada, separately from the annual top-ten list.


The festival's major prize, the People's Choice Award, is given to a feature-length film. It is not a juried prize, but is given to the film with the highest ratings as voted by the TIFF-going populace.[40] It is presently referred to as the "Grolsch People's Choice Award";[41] past sponsors of the award have included Cadillac.[42] The winners of this award have often later earned Academy Award nominations.[43] People's Choice Awards are also presented for Documentary and Midnight Madness films. Each of the People's Choice Awards names first and second runners-up in addition to the winners.

However, TIFF does present juried awards in some other categories. The festival presents three major awards for Canadian films: Best Canadian Film, Best Canadian First Feature Film, and Best Canadian Short Film, as well as international awards for Best Short Film, two FIPRESCI-sponsored Special Presentation and Discovery awards for international films, and a NETPAC-sponsored award for the best film from Asia having its world premiere at the festival.[44]

In 2015, the festival introduced Platform, a juried programme that champions director’s cinema from around the world; one film from the stream is selected as the winner of the Platform Prize.

For all of the juried awards, honorable mentions may also be given, although the juries are expected to select one overall winner.

For 2019, TIFF announced two new awards, the TIFF Impact Award to honour production companies for work that has had an impact on the film industry, and the Mary Pickford Award to honour an emerging female filmmaker.[45]


The hundreds of films screened at the annual festival are divided into sections (referred to by TIFF as "Programmes") based on genre (e.g. documentary, children's films), format (e.g. short films, television episodes), the status of filmmaker (e.g. "masters", first-time directors), and so forth. Up until the early 2010s there were sections reserved for Canadian films, but beginning in 2015 all Canadian films are integrated in sections with films from outside Canada.

Currently the festival's 14 sections are as follows:[26]

  • Contemporary World Cinema: narrative feature films generally by directors who are established but not famous
  • Discovery: films that are typically the director's first or second feature film
  • Gala Presentations: high-profile feature films, often featuring international movie stars, presented with a red carpet
  • In Conversation With...: interviews of a director or other figure from the film industry, generally accompanied by brief excerpts from films (up until the 2014 festival, this section was called "Mavericks")
  • Masters: feature films by "the world's most influential art-house filmmakers"
  • Midnight Madness: genre films (traditionally at TIFF each film in this section has one screening scheduled for 11:59pm and another the following afternoon); the section was launched at TIFF in 1988 and was programmed by Colin Geddes from 1998 to 2016,[46] now programmed by Peter Kuplowsky
  • Platform: a competitive section launched in 2015, named for Jia Zhangke's film Platform, of films from around the world that do not have distribution in North America.[47][48] Every year the Platform section has a high-profile international jury which confers a prize of C$25,000; both documentaries and narrative films are eligible for inclusion in the section; prior winners of the Platform Prize are the Canadian documentary HURT (2015), the biographical drama Jackie (2016) and Sweet Country (2017).
  • Primetime: television episodes making either their world premiere or North American premiere projected cinematically; this section was launched in 2015
  • Short Cuts: a section of short films (usually six to ten short films included at each screening) both Canadian and international; up until the 2013 festival only Canadian short films were screened and the section was called Short Cuts Canada, in 2014 a new section called Short Cuts International was added, and then in 2015 they were merged into a section called Short Cuts
  • Special Presentations: high-profile feature films, usually Canadian premieres if not world premieres
  • TIFF Cinematheque: unlike the other sections which present new films, the TIFF Cinematheque section has films from all eras of cinema, often classic films that have been newly restored
  • TIFF Docs (formerly called Reel to Reel): documentary films
  • TIFF Kids and TIFF Next Wave (formerly called Sprockets): films for children and teenagers
  • Wavelengths: experimental films and art films, both feature-length and shorts (this section was named for Michael Snow's film Wavelength)

In previous years, sections at TIFF have included Canada First!, City to City (2009 to 2016), Future Projections, Vanguard (up to 2016), and Visions (up to 2011).

Media coverage

In 2016, TIFF hosted 1,800 members of the press and print media outlets such as the Toronto Star, The Globe and Mail, The New York Times, The Times of India, Los Angeles Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Miami Herald, and the Toronto Sun have published a significant amount of festival coverage.[49][50] Also, the major industry trade magazines Variety, The Hollywood Reporter and Screen International all produce daily editions during TIFF. TIFF reports also appear in weekly news magazines; American, Canadian and international entertainment shows; news services; and a wide range of film and celebrity blogs.[51]

See also

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