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The Toronto International Film Festival Marks 40 Years of Movies

A MAJOR ANNIVERSARY AFFORDS THE OPPORTUNITY TO LOOK BACK AT THE TORONTO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL’S BEGINNINGS

TIFF Toronto International Film Festival TIFF 2015

(photo: courtesy of TIFF)

Four decades is a long time in the life of any art form or industry—especially one as fickle as filmmaking. It’s rather exceptional when a single person or institution can not only enter but also remain in the cultural conversation across multiple generations. Yet it’s a feat that the Toronto International Film Festival has managed to pull off.

Marking its ruby anniversary this year, TIFF (which runs from September 10 to 20) continues to be one of the global movie business’s most significant annual events, an affair at which hundreds of the world’s most exciting motion pictures are introduced not only to industry insiders, but to everyday film fans seeking cinematic stories from new voices and auteurs alike.

In a way, it has ever been thus. TIFF’s 1976 beginnings were modest, but hardly unmemorable. The debut event—dubbed the “Festival of Festivals,” as its programming was drawn from other established international film series—brought to Toronto 127 movies from 30 countries. Among them were celebrated works by German directors Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Werner Herzog and Wim Wenders. The years closely following shone the spotlight on legends like Jean-Luc Godard as well as then-rising stars such as Pedro Almodovar and Béla Tarr. Retrospectives were also an important component: Quebecois cinema, American horror movies and a sizeable survey of Canadian films drew focus at TIFF’s earliest editions.

Since then, the fledgling, weeklong celebration has matured into an organization that caters to local and visiting cineastes year-round at the TIFF Bell Lightbox: Toronto’s monument to movies screens acclaimed new releases, classics both acknowledged and little-known, groundbreaking documentaries and more. It’s also home to the world’s largest archive of Canadian films and film-related materials, has hosted blockbuster exhibitions on moviemakers like Stanley Kubrick and David Cronenberg, and serves as a jumping-off point for outreach that’s brought the cinematic arts to more than 160 communities across Canada.

Of course, the festival itself is still the centerpiece of TIFF’s programming; the 21st-century iteration is recognized as perhaps the most accessible, audience-friendly event of its kind, where hundreds of thousands of moviegoers discover everything from big-budget Hollywood films to art house flicks from abroad. (For 2015, TV shows have also been added to the schedule.) It’s this inclusiveness, coupled with the sheer diversity of its offerings, which has long set TIFF apart from other film festivals—and which no doubt will continue to be its hallmark in the years to come.  —Craig Moy

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