• By: Keith Whittier

TIFF CEO Cameron Bailey talks Canadian Film and the Prime Time Conference

This week, the annual Prime Time conference, hosted by the Canadian Media Producers Association, is taking place at the Westin Hotel in Ottawa. I had the opportunity to chat with Cameron Bailey, CEO of The Toronto International Film Festival, about Prime Time and his take on the recent Academy Award nominations.

OLM: What is TIFF’s role in Prime Time?

Cameron Bailey: We have had different TIFF staffers attending Prime Time for many years, but this will be my second time attending in Ottawa. I am really looking forward to it. I was there last January on a panel, and I will be sitting on a panel again this year with a couple of other people from the film industry. It’s a good time to discuss new ideas and where things are in the industry.

We are also a place that launches many of the most prominent Canadian films of the year and many of the new prominent Canadian series of the year (Bones of Crows, Alias Grace). It’s an important gathering for us to be at.

OLM: Many people think TIFF is a festival that takes place in September, but it’s a year-round event; there are opportunities to see films and take part in talks all year long.

Cameron Bailey: That is also something we can shine a light on when we are in Ottawa. We have our film circuit, which is our collaboration with local volunteer-run film clubs, where we help support them and get films out to those locations. TIFF is a national organization as well as a Toronto one, and we operate year-round.

OLM: Can you speak to the changes at TIFF?

Cameron Bailey: We had a challenging year last year with several different factors, including the actor’s strike, which impacted who would be attending. In the end, I think we delivered a great festival. The audiences were very happy, and the theatres were full, but there was a big period of uncertainty in the summertime because of the strike, and we were also winding down our Bell partnership, which had been running strong for years and years. There were some challenges last year. One of the things I wanted to do was to refresh the senior team of the organization. We have a great new leader on the marketing front and have some additional bench strength that we are taking into 2024. Now that the actors strike it is over, it is full stream ahead for this year’s festival and some pretty exciting premier events that will be happening year-round. \We have the new Bob Marley biopic One Love that is coming for the Canadian premiere very soon.

OLM: You guys are great at rolling with punches, whether delivering during the pandemic or the two strikes. At your core, you are still showing entertaining films with strong stories. Was it ideal in terms of timing? No, but you were still able to showcase some of the top films’ releases year over year.

I wanted to ask you about the Academy Award nominations; it is another year where TIFF was well represented.

Cameron Bailey: As always with the Oscar nominations, you have mixed feelings about it. Among the nominees are films and people I am excited about. American Fiction, with its director Cord Jefferson and its star Jeffrey Wright, is a film we premiered in Toronto, and it also won our Peoples Choice Award, so it’s a film people discovered first at TIFF.

Colman Domingo, nominated for Rustin, was given a TIFF Tribue Award — it’s the first award he won in this award season cycle. The Boy and the Heron is recognized in the animated feature category. Its international premiere was in Toronto — the first people outside Japan to see the film was at our opening night last year.

Past Lives, the Celine Song film, got two nominations, including Best Picture. She grew up in Toronto, and Canada is very much a part of her creative imagination — and you see that reflected in Past Lives.

I would have wanted to see Greta Gerwig (Barbie) nominated (for Best Director), but in terms of who we have a strong connection with and Canadian representation, I was happy to see To Kill a Tiger nominated. It’s produced by TIFF’s own Anita Lee; she worked on it when she was at the National Film Board, and we are thrilled to see it nominated for Best Documentary Feature.

OLM: Thanks so much for your time.

Cameron Bailey: Thank you.