The Different Hats of Toronto's Bell Lightbox

Curator's Note

As the thirty-fifth Toronto International Film Festival draws to a close this weekend, the star amongst stars towered forty-two stories over the festival-goers beneath it, plebes and Palme D’Or winners alike. This was the year that the long-planned, much talked-about Bell Lightbox finally opened, the new year-round home to TIFF. 

With Lightbox’s opening comes the unmistakable sense of a new beginning for North America’s largest film festival. What is much less clear, and potentially much more interesting, is what exactly this new era represents. At the risk of exploiting too obvious an analogy, this new structure has become the vessel into which all manner of interested parties – festival organizers, city planners, industry participants, cineastes in Toronto and the world over – have poured their sometimes-aligned, sometimes-conflicting hopes. In the featured clip, a behind-the-scenes tour of an under-construction building led by artistic director Noah Cowan and produced by NOW Magazine, we get a sense of the complex ballet of competing interests that produced Bell Lightbox – a partnership between a philanthropically-minded film family and a commercial real estate developer, large-scale corporate sponsorship as well as significant public underwriting, educational imperatives and a glamorous film festival. For festival staff, the new building is a chance to further build on the momentum of each fall and expand their year-round programming efforts. For visiting industry participants, Lightbox represents a centralization of the geography of TIFF, with the status of Toronto’s Entertainment District as the festival’s center of gravity further solidified, similar to the re-organization of the Berlinale around Potsdamer Platz a decade ago. And for the government, Lightbox represents a potentially powerful engine of economic growth in the heart of downtown; tens of millions of dollars have been invested, all with a keen eye towards the economic benefits that Lightbox might represent.

With King Street blocked off on September 12th to celebrate the opening of TIFF Bell Lightbox, the atmosphere of celebration was palpable. Once this year’s festival closes, however, with it goes the spotlight of the global entertainment press, so reliably trained on Toronto each September. And it is only after that moment that the hard business of running a large-scale cultural facility begins, and the negotiations over exactly which hats Lightbox will wear, and which ones must be left behind, will commence in earnest.


One of the recurring themes this week has been place--with your post highlighting the culmination of the professionalization of the festival in the construction of an official headquarters.  

Yet this one building's construction also references other topics from the week, including localism, community, and the struggle to accommodate competing visions.

Thanks for a fitting conclusion to our week on film festivals, Brendan.  Your report from the festival makes an exciting end to a week that has traveled from Cannes, to Berlin, to Thessaloniki, to Seattle, and then finally landed in Toronto.


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