There was a time when the Toronto International Film Festival wasn’t about the big stars, red carpets, or gala premieres. While the current-day festival is sold mostly on the fact that it attracts some of the biggest and brightest actors and filmmakers from around the world, there was a time long, long ago when TIFF was about only one thing: the movies.
When TIFF began back in 1976, it was originally known as The Festival of Festivals, and instead of featuring its own original line up, the event was entirely dedicated to screening the best movies from other, more esteemed film fests like Cannes and Venice. This mandate may have sprung out of the fact that it was fairly easy to program a film festival “best of,” but the truth of the situation was that in the mid-‘70s, producers and studios had little interest in premiering their films in a place that was then seen as a cultural backwater. Oh, how the times have changed.
The shift towards the TIFF that festivalgoers know and love today really started in 1983, with the world premiere writer/director Lawrence Kasdan’s “The Big Chill.” Featuring an ensemble cast of some of Hollywood's most promising stars -- Glenn Close, Jeff Goldblum, Kevin Kline, William Hurt, and Tom Berenger (as well as a then-unknown Kevin Costner playing a corpse), to name a few -- the acclaimed drama was a big get for the still very modest Toronto festival and sent a message to Hollywood that TIFF had arrived. From then on, star-studded world premieres and celeb-packed red carpets became the norm for Toronto. TIFF will celebrate the 30th anniversary of "The Big Chill" and what it meant to T.O. with a cast and crew reunion screening on the opening night of the 2013 festival.
It would be a little unfair to say that modern iterations of the Toronto Film Fest are preoccupied with star power, though. While the glitzy gala premieres do seem to earn most of the spotlight, TIFF annually features over 300 films from around the globe, most of which don’t feature any Hollywood A-listers or even a distributor for that matter. The festival is a global stage for movies to be seen, regardless of where they’re from. Whether it’s a star-studded $100 million tentpole like “Cloud Atlas” (which premiered at the fest last year) or an African indie movie from a first-time director, there’s a place in the TIFF spectrum for any kind of film from anywhere on the planet.
It’s easy to be critical of the increased focus on celebrities and awards season contenders, but there’s no denying that TIFF would not be the event it is today had it not been for big stars and major Hollywood studios bringing their films – and, in turn, the eyes of the world – to Toronto. If the presence of George Clooney or Brad Pitt at TIFF makes a person aware of a film they'd otherwise never be exposed to, how is that a bad thing?
The 2013 Toronto International Film Festival runs from September 5 to 15.