As the Director and CEO of the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), Piers Handling is the man in charge of one of the biggest and most recognized cinema celebrations around the globe. Now underway and in its 37th edition, Toronto has 289 feature films and 83 shorts rounding out this year’s festival, shining a cinematic spotlight on both Canadian (and international) films as well as Toronto as a metropolitan heaven. Here, Mr. Handling gives us the lowdown as to what to expect from the 37th annual Toronto International Film Festival.
Life+Times: What’s in store for the 37th TIFF? What is exciting and what makes this year interesting?
Piers Handling: The international industry descends here for 11 days. It’s a power packed lined up of great talent that we know and recognize from Ryan Gosling to Jake Gyllenhaal to Kristen Stewart. The list goes on and on and it’s an insane list with star caliber and talent. To me, it’s totally insane. For the people in the city of Toronto, it’s absolutely amazing. There’s tons of stargazing that takes place and the media is all over it. Some of the biggest movie stars in the world come to Toronto but at the end of the day they are in films that we think are great movies.
L+T: Tell me a little bit about Film Festival’s Masters programme. What exactly is this?
PH: This is a section we started around 10r 15 years ago. Since the festival is so big it needs to be compartmentalized. It’s a guideline to what we think are the master filmmakers – those who are the most important filmmakers in the world. It’s a phenomenal list of those who have been Academy Award nominated and so on. It’s those filmmakers whose films have been in competition around the globe at other major film festivals. Those in this category tend not to be young filmmakers – they tend to be seasoned and in the game for a long time and their work is universally regarded at a high level. There are approximately fifteen films in this section so it’s very manageable. It goes to both younger and older audiences.
L+T: How and when did you get involved with TIFF?
PH: I’m the Director and CEO. I got involved with TIFF by going to the very first festival. I was working in Ottawa and came down and hung out and saw a bunch of films. To date, I’ve only missed two of the 37 festivals. I moved to Toronto in 1982 and when I was working with the festival, they sent me to Rio and I came back to with 14 Brazilian movies and we presented it in a Brazilian side bar of the festival. Then I climbed the ranks and I’ve been holding my current position since 1994.
LT: TIFF also has something called Mavericks. What is this?
PH: It’s a talk session where we chat with key industry talent. This ranges from Jackie Chan to David Geffen – Hollywood insiders who are also trusted figures. These are the mavericks of their field – those who have existed within the system yet have done their own thing and stood outside of it.
L+T: TIFF shines a cultural spotlight on Toronto in a respected fashion. What, in your opinion, is the reputation of Toronto in the film industry?
PH: I think that the Canadian film industry and TIFF have grown up hand in hand. We have so many Canadian filmmakers on an international platform that they didn’t already have. Those that were at international level had to go to Venice or Berlin or Cannes to be discovered and there weren’t very many of them before TIFF started so we kind of got in on the ground floor. We grew up with the David Cronenberg’s and the Atom Egoyan’s. It was these iconic filmmakers that shaped us. And we helped shape them too.