TIFF Propels South Asian Films Forward To A Global Audience

In 2014, Margarita with a Straw directed by Indian filmmaker Shonali Bose starring Kalki Koechlin, won the best International Asian Film Premier award at TIFF, before it went on to make headlines worldwide.

This year, Pan Nalin’s Angry Indian Goddesses won a standing ovation and the People’s Choice Award at The 10th Rome Film Festival on October 2015.

Deepa Mehta’s Beeba Boys, Leena Yadav’s Parched, Davis Guggenheim’s He Named me Malala, Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy and Geeta Gandbhir’s A Journey of a Thousand Miles: Peacekeepers sold out to a packed audience at TIFF.

Piers Handling, Director & CEO and Cameron Bailey, Artistic Director, Toronto International Film Festival graciously took time out of their busy schedules to talk on what makes TIFF and the films it picks such a hit.

Joyeeta Dutta Ray talks to the Directors at TIFF about the Festival, film selections and why South Asian picks are increasingly grabbing the spotlight.

Piers Handling, Director and Chief Executive Officer, TIFF:

SSZEE MEDIA: 2015 marks the 40th year for TIFF.  It is recognized as one of the most prestigious events of its kind in the world today. What makes TIFF so popular?

Piers Handling: The Festival’s popularity is in part attributed to its unique and diverse programming, which is tailored for both a large public audience, as well as for the world’s press and industry members. The Festival is also the launch pad for both big Hollywood films and art house cinema from around the globe, attracting thousands of media and industry professionals each September. We present films from approximately 70 different countries every year.

It’s exciting to see a Mumbai film with a Festival audience that has so many South-Asian film fans. We provide a spotlight to films from a huge variety of countries, bringing filmmakers and their overseas communities together. Shining a spotlight on films from so many countries creates a sense of community among passionate filmmakers and discerning audiences alike.

SSZEE: How has TIFF evolved over the last four decades?

PH: The amount of change TIFF has undergone as an organization since it launched as the Festival of Festivals in 1976 is incredible.

When it started, there were very few institutions in Canada that were focused on film as a form of cultural expression, and few places a Cinephile could gravitate to. The vision for the organization, before I started and continuing thereafter, was to broaden the Festival into an international organization.

We continued to suppo75b5b54f-0d17-4fb3-966e-4b34963e709a-2060x1236rt and elevate Canadian film artists, while focusing on presenting cinema from non-English speaking countries with major retrospectives on India, Germany, Latin America, and China, even in our earliest years. Shortly after I joined the organization, we found we were being offered more programmes for the film festival than could run. This began our natural evolution from a Festival to a year-round organization where we could present cinematic film culture. We looked to organizations like the British Film Institute and Cinematheque Française as models for what we were trying to accomplish in Toronto. The Festival gave us a foundation for big aspirations of becoming a centre for film culture, where cinephiles, critics, the film industry, children’s audiences and even the archival world could turn to.

Looking to the future — the next 40 years — our exciting plans include extending our reach and impact around the world by touring our Canadian and children’s programming to various international destinations. And, with initiatives like the TIFF Kids and TIFF Next Wave Film Festivals, our camps and school programmes, we’ll continue to provide and grow opportunities for the next generation of film lovers and filmmakers.

SSZEE: What makes Toronto the ideal venue to host the world’s largest public film festival?

PH: Toronto is a wonderful multi-cultural city and TIFF audiences are uniquely diverse. Our audiences love film; they have huge passion for art and cultural expression and they help create a swell of excitement and positive energy.

During the Festival, we screen over 300 films using venues including our home at TIFF Bell Lightbox, the spectacular Roy Thomson Hall and historic Princess of Wales Theatre. The introduction of Festival Street has helped us create a Festival Village on King Street. It’s free and has become a great space where people can enjoy the fun atmosphere during the festival’s 10 days.

SSZEE: How many films were lined-up this year? Who selects the films and on what basis?

PH: The Toronto International Film Festival screened 287 feature films and 110 short films. TIFF’s team of programmers select the films for festival. For more information, CLICK HERE

And now Joyeeta Dutta Ray catches a moment with Cameron Bailey, Artistic Director, Toronto International Film Festival to discuss about the record number of South Asian films, entering this year’s TIFF festival.

SSZEE MEDIA: This year we saw a good number of South Asian films, more than any other year. How did they rise to such prominence?

Cameron Bailey: We’ve always made it a priority to find the strongest films available from South Asia. First it was auteurs like Buddhadeb Dasgupta and Adoor Gopalakrishnan, and then about 10 years ago we started including Bollywood standouts like Karan Johar’s Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna.

Now, independent filmmaking has taken off in India. This year there was especially strong work by and about women, so we were thrilled to premiere films like Leena Yadav’s Parched, Megna Gulzar’s Talvar and Pan Nalin’s Angry Indian Goddesses. And we’re finding new voices in Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka as well.

There’s always been vital, dynamic filmmaking in the region. Now we’re seeing more and more filmmakers looking to show their films to the rest of the world.

SSZEE: Migrant crises, women’s issues and gangsters were hot topics. There was a dearth of Comedies, Rom-Coms and Thrillers. Shouldn’t there be more variety in genres?

CB: With almost 300 feature films, every Festival goers will have a unique experience. If you happened to see The Martian, Maggie’s Plan, Northern Soul, Lolo, Office and Jason Reitman’s Princess Bride live read, you might have felt that this year was a Festival of light fun. If you saw only Room and Beasts of No Nation you might have felt it was intense.

SSZEE: More than one in five movies at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival came from Canada. However, Canadian movies have not made much impact on the world stage. Why is that?

programmer_cameronCB: For Canadian filmmakers, the border with the United States is porous. So Canadian Norman Jewison made Moonstruck for Hollywood, as did Jason Reitman with Juno, Jean-Marc Vallee with The Dallas Buyers Club and Denis Villeneuve with Prisoners and now Sicario!

Within Canada, Quebecois filmmakers often have big box office successes within Quebec, while English-Canadian filmmakers in the rest of the country tend to make independent films aimed at artistic success rather than purely commercial films. David Cronenberg, Patricia Rozema, Deepa Mehta and Atom Egoyan have done very well both in Canada and with critics and festivals abroad.

SSZEE:  Who were the popular Hollywood stars that attended this year’s TIFF?

CB: Among the most popular this year were George Clooney, Sandra Bullock, Matt Damon, Natalie Portman, Johnny Depp, Penelope Cruz, Tom Hardy, Julianne Moore, Eddie Redmayne, Tom Hiddleston, Jake Gyllenhaal, Drew Barrymore, Naomi Watts, Kiefer Sutherland, Jeremy Irons, Kiefer Sutherland, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Mark Buffalo…

SSZEE: Could you share a couple of the most memorable moments from TIFF 2015?

CB: I was especially happy with some of the live events we hosted: Yo-Yo Ma playing his cello for our audience after the screening of a documentary about his Silk Road project, Jason Reitman’s live read of the screenplay for The Princess Bride, with actors like Patrick Stewart and Rachel McAdams taking on those classic roles, and the screening of Hitchcock’s Vertigo with a live performance of the score by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. We even had Vertigo star Kim Novak come to introduce it! These were once-in-a-lifetime events.

SSZEE: This year, 6 television programs were presented at public screenings. What’s the future of TIFF? Do you foresee any changes with the digital media revolution?

CB: We believe the borders between film and television will continue to fall and we’re now most interested in pursuing the best storytelling wherever we find it.

Our new Prime-time section was a great start to what we hope will be a bright future for long-form stories at our Festival.

Interview was conducted by Joyeeta Dutta Ray for SSZee Media 

L3 (1)Joyeeta Dutta Ray is the Editor in Chief for SSZee Media, where she brings her multiple interests and multi country experience to the enterprising portal, that is based in London, Mumbai, Toronto and Los Angeles. She is also an Advertising Consultant, Published Author and Blogger, currently residing in Toronto, Canada.
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