Cameron Bailey remains passionate about films and their power to inspire.  

We are just days away from my favourite month of the year, September. Specific things make September my favourite month of the year, and we kick it off with the 47th edition of the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). Canadian and International films coupled with special events, celebrity appearances, and an industry conference for emerging talent are just some of the things that make up this well-respected festival. Many people will descend upon Toronto for these 11 days, which honestly has something for everyone. Whether you want to catch upcoming films, see the stars, sharpen your skills, or network, there is honestly something for everyone. There are so many exciting aspects to this year’s festival. An appearance by a former first lady and her daughter, films that will undoubtedly be on the Academy Award ballot, and a potential appearance by some guy named Harry Styles.

To kick off our TIFF coverage, I spoke with the CEO of TIFF, Cameron Bailey. It was great talking with him again. You would be hard-pressed to find anyone more excited about TIFF 2022 and who is just as passionate about this year’s festival as he has always been.

Ottawa Life Magazine (OLM): I hear statements claiming that ‘TIFF is back,’ but I would say you never left. You have done such a fantastic job during the pandemic. Nomadland won the Peoples Choice Award (The highest award at the festival) and went on to win The Academy Award for Best Picture in 2021. How do you react when you hear the verbiage . . . TIFF is back?

Cameron Bailey: Well, I do for a second, think of that LL Cool J saying, ‘Don’t call it a comeback, we’ve been here for years,’ I understand it as well. The festival did take place, and very successfully, over two very challenging pandemic years, but at the same time, we didn’t have the industry or the international media coming in. It was tough for people to travel over the last two years, so I understand people haven’t been here since 2019; they may be thinking, ‘TIFF is back’ because they are back.

OLM: Outside of the movies, when you think about things like the Industry Conference and Festival Street, what are you really excited for people to experience? Is it an ‘all of the above situation?’

Cameron Bailey: I think just the choice and the range are exciting. To know that Hillary Clinton and Chelsea Clinton will be here speaking at the Industry Conference. Knowing that Festival Street is back and on, we will have some amazing artists on the street for the first four days of the festival. To know that our ‘In Conversation’ series includes some pretty amazing speakers, including Damien Chazelle (Director of La La Land), who will be talking about his career but especially giving a first taste of his new film, Babylon, which is expected to be one of the top films of the year. So there’s a lot of cool stuff to choose from in addition to all the amazing films.

OLM: The festival schedule came out this week past Tuesday around 10 am. By 11 am, I felt confident my itinerary was done. Then, I started talking to friends, talking to peers . . . ‘what about this movie, what about that movie?’ Do you take pleasure knowing that you make it extremely difficult for us to put together a schedule as there is so much to see?

Cameron Bailey: (Laughing) You know, I think it depends on what you are trying to do. If you are trying to see everything, yes, it’s impossible; you can not, so give up on that right now. I think what you can do is you can choose your own festival. We have got 200 features and 50 shorts. You can find your own path through it, follow what you’re most into, take recommendations from people you trust, and they’ll have their own different schedules. It might overlap a little with yours or barely at all, and that’s the great thing about the festival, everybody gets to choose.

OLM: I would expect asking you to pick movies is like asking a parent to pick their favourite child. What are some movies that might jump off the page that you think are going to be very successful this season?

Cameron Bailey: They are the ones that I think many people already know about. We have the world premiere of the new Steven Speilberg film The Fabelmans, and having seen The Fabelmans, I know that this is a film that people will be talking about for months and years to come; it’s fantastic. I know that our opening night film, The Swimmers, is one of the best films I have seen all year and an incredibly powerful and timely story. That’s going to be a big one, I think, as well. But there are so many others. The new Darren Aronosfsky film (The Whale) is definitely going to get people talking. The new Sarah Polley movie (Women Talking). These are both films that take on big, important subjects about true character drama. Then there are all types of films that will be real discoveries for people, as well. The Alice Dip film Saint Omer, from France, the new film in our Platform programme that Frances O’Connor, the actor is directing, Emily, which is the Emily Bronte story, these are films that might be flying a little bit under the radar right now. But, I think once people see them, they will also be talking about them.

OLM: This year, the festival is more centralized with the addition of the Royal Alexandra Theatre. Everything seems to be within a five-to-ten-minute walking radius.

Cameron Bailey: Now that we can bring people back together, we want to do it in a big way, so we have concentrated the festival’s footprint in a tighter radius. All the major venues are within a few minutes’ walk of one another. That means you can get to more things; you can bump into people, you can do the things that we haven’t been able to do for a couple of years which is just spending time amongst other people who are film lovers.

The Royal Alexandra Theatre is right across from Roy Thompson Hall, and they are both a minute away from Princess of Wales, which is across the street from TIFF Bell Lightbox, which is just two blocks away from Scotiabank Theatre. Everything is close by. The Industry Centre is a block from TIFF Bell Lightbox.

The only one that is a bit of an outlier is one of my favourite venues, the Cinesphere, at Ontario Place. We chose that because it is a historic, iconic venue, the very first IMAX cinema in the world. And we are presenting some IMAX exclusives there, films that we are only showing in that large format because they are films, like the David Bowie ‘Fantasia’ I will call Moonage Daydream and like the Korean war fighter pilot movie, Devotion. That’s the one that’s outside the rest of the footprint but everything else you can walk around; you don’t need to get into a car or even public transportation to get anywhere.

OLM: You have been doing this a long time, and I love that your passion for this hasn’t wavered. What do you attribute this passion too, as you aren’t just the head of this organization, but you’re also a fan?

Cameron Bailey: I had a funny path towards where I am now. I was much more a reader and a ‘book nerd’ when I was a kid. I spent a lot of time in libraries just following my curiosity. I discovered film when I was in university, and that kind of really lit the fuse. I love stories. I love how artists can use stories to move people to get them to think in new ways. That hasn’t changed, and every year I see films that do that. So, I keep getting to feed that passion, and that light never goes out.

OLM: Are you ready for rapid fire?

Cameron Bailey: Yes

OLM: When we spoke years ago, Vertigo was your favourite movie. Is it still?  

Cameron Bailey: I was just taking part in the Sight and Sound poll, and it’s still up there. There are a few others that are rising as well; I’ll just name one; the film Touki Bouki by Djibril Diop Mambety from Senegal is one that has risen up, in my estimation. I just watched it again not long ago. But Vertigo, I still love it. It’s a complicated, weird, disturbing film in many ways, but I just think it’s brilliant.

OLM: You like what you like! Now Cameron, be honest with me; how many people, right now, are trying to hit you up for an intro to Harry Styles? (Styles stars in the film, My Policeman, which is getting a lot of buzz).

Cameron Bailey: (Laughing) I hope not too many. It’s definitely one of the hot tickets of the festival. A lot of people will want to be in that room when the film premieres. I am not going to be much help getting you to meet Harry Styles.

OLM: Has there ever been a movie that comes to mind that you were surprised that didn’t connect with audiences?

Cameron Bailey: That’s a great question and kind of a hard one to answer. I try to keep my expectations moderated. If I love a film, I don’t expect everyone is going to love it. There was a film we showed in 2020, it was the first of the pandemic festivals, and it was hard for people to see films. It was primarily online, and we did a little in-person with drive-ins, etc. It’s called Ammonite with Kate Winslet. I think she’s just terrific in it. I think she should have been nominated for an Academy Award. It’s one of the best performances of that year and of her career. It just didn’t connect. I’m not even sure why. At that moment, there were so many things going on in the fall of 2020, and movies were not top of people’s minds, but it’s a terrific film, and I hope people come back to it later.

OLM: During the pandemic, did you pick up any new hobbies?

Cameron Bailey: I picked up a hobby I had dropped a long time ago: gardening. It is the most transcendent and the most frustrating hobby you can have because you have very little control over what you can actually do in a garden as a lot is out of your hands. We did a renovation, my wife and I, of our backyard, and I’ve just started to grow some things, and I find it very calming to do.

OLM: We all need that sense of calm in our lives. What do you think sets TIFF apart from other film festivals and experiences?

Cameron Bailey: I think the top thing is the power of the TIFF audience. These are film lovers who know a lot about movies, but they aren’t snobby about movies. They have open minds; they are curious and passionate and want to discover something great. We have them in large numbers here in Toronto, thanks to what we’ve been doing for 47 years and many other festivals and film organizations in this city. We are lucky that way. It’s a city that is very open to the world. Half the people here weren’t born in Canada, which also feeds our audience. They are plugged into global culture in an amazing way.

I think we’ve got one of the best teams of programmers of films in the world as well and they are all experts, which certainly helps. One thing I’m very proud of is we are, I think, the most prominent and biggest showcase for Canadian films. In terms of the numbers we show, the ones we premiere that go onto greater success, the Canadian talent onscreen, and behind the camera that we are introducing to audiences every year. That’s a great responsibility for us, and I am glad we can do that.

OLM: Thank you for the time.

Photo by George Pimentel