From film critic to festival director

April 2, 2014 No Comments »
From film critic to festival director
PARTY LIKE IT’S 1987. Gazette alumnus Cameron Bailey (centre) has had a tremendous career. The former film critic for The Gazette is now the director of the Toronto International Film Festival and has focused on turning TIFF into a global brand. — Courtesy of Cameron Bailey

Last Friday night, Western graduate, Gazette alumnus and current director of the Toronto International Film Festival, Cameron Bailey, delivered a lecture on the development of a global brand for TIFF.

It has been a long journey for Bailey, who started writing movie reviews for the Gazette in the 1980s. Bailey remembers the experience at The Gazette and how it got him where he is today.

“As soon as you finish your tenure, they offer you a position at TIFF — happened for all of us,” Bailey jokes. “For me it was a long series of steps. The one thing — actually it’s more than one thing — The Gazette gave me was the opportunity to write, almost every week, and to edit, and I did layout, and I learned about journalism and I learned about arts journalism in particular.”

“We hated everybody. We saw ourselves as the counter culture — the people who were holding up a fun house mirror at the student administration and the university itself. We saw ourselves as some kind of outlaws on campus — it’s a bit of a fantasy really looking back on it now, but it was valuable to us at the time,” Bailey recalls.

After graduating Bailey got an eight-month job at Cinema Canada when they asked him to review a Canadian film. He later got a job with NOW Magazine after they sent him to do a 150-word review of Die Hard.

Eventually, Bailey became involved in the Toronto International Film Festival and became the director of the festival where he is responsible for organizing the vision of the festival and selecting films to be screened at the festival.

Bailey has taken the festival towards a global market, looking to bring films and the discussion of these films both to Toronto and outside of it.

“I think the good news is that we can feel comfortable going to almost any part of the world knowing that we have communities in those parts of the world that live in Toronto,” Bailey says. “We are familiar at least in some degree with the culture and the history of those communities. We try to engage those communities at the building and at the festival every year and because we are showing films from those countries, it gives us ease when we go into new places. There’s also the hope that we can bring culture home from those places to communities in Toronto and we can help be a part of that exchange.”

Bailey views the ability to screen films from all around the world as a key part of interacting with Toronto’s multicultural demographics. Bailey hopes the festival can reach out to immigrants to allow for inter-cultural dialogue and to allow immigrant communities to interact with their home countries.

“If we are able to regularly bring filmmakers from Iran, for instance, to the Persian community in Toronto and have that exchange happen regularly, have those filmmakers show their work to a Iranian community in Toronto and have the Q&As and the exchanges, that’s going to help — if you are able to do that on a regular basis you are able to help the community stay in touch with how the home country is changing,” Bailey says.

For Bailey, TIFF becoming a global brand is about expanding a way of approaching cinema.

“What we want to try and do is export a way of approaching cinema — that idea of the public engagement with cinema, that the audience’s opinion matters, that there is a kind of democratisation of taste and that we are not presenting films as a way of dictating what is important or what is valuable but a way of engaging an audience in a conversation where we can all create meaning together,” Bailey says. “That’s not universally accepted as a way to watch movies, in some parts of the world, it’s all about authorities telling you what to think. I think if we can export a more democratic idea around cinema than that will be the real value of going global.”

Bailey’s idea of the festival’s role is not limited to how people understand cinema but also how a city understands itself. In his lecture, he spoke about Richard Florida’s idea of a creative city and Jane Jacob’s belief that city planners need to keep their eyes on the street.

“I think we still have a lot to learn from Jane Jacobs. Richard Florida’s ideas about cultural capital and creative cities, I think we are an example of that, the culture we present is part of the reason he would move to a city like Toronto,” Bailey comments.

From his time at The Gazette to his role in the Toronto International Film Festival, Cameron Bailey lived in the cinema and has become a visionary voice in the discussion of cinema and the city of Toronto.

“Toronto has changed a lot since [Jacobs] first moved there and the thing that I worry the most about in downtown Toronto right now is the rise of the small condo. It does some very positive things [...] but the problem is that those shoebox condos can be so isolating — that’s exactly what Jane Jacobs was warning against. There’s no way to have those eyes on the street when you go up on the elevator to the 34th floor every day. We try to get those condo dwellers out of their units and out onto the street,” Bailey says.

 — With files from Keshia Saldanha

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