The Very Modest Beginnings of TIFF

At the outset, the only media friend the Toronto Film Festival had was George Anthony.

The 40th edition of the Toronto International Film Festival kicks off tonight with a gala screening of the Jake Gyllenhaal Fox Searchlight comedy-drama Demolition. And it’s safe to say that only a very few of the attending journalists, dignitaries and locals are personally acquainted with just how modest a beginning this event had.

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For a refresher on that front, we turn to Will Sloan’s wonderful oral history of TIFF, posted to Torontoist. The freelance writer spoke with lead programmer Piers Handling, the event’s still surviving original co-founders and many more folks, like Chaz Ebert.

Here’s just one strand of the oral history. Contrast these comments to the gargantuan media presence and hashtagged tweet storm that has already started:

Bill Marshall (co-founder): The Toronto Star [said], “The Festival of Festivals is a stupid name – we’re gonna call it the Toronto Film Festival.” So I said, “Okay – we’ll not give you any free tickets. Bugger off.” Their movie critic, Clyde Gilmour, went on holiday because he wouldn’t want to see movies with the common folks.

Henk Van der Kolk (co-founder): I’ll never forget, I argued for a couple of hours with somebody who was the editor of one of the major papers, and I said, “Listen, we need help – can you give us a little exposure? Can you say this thing is coming up?” And they said, “No, we cover the news, you’re not news. You’re not news until you actually start.” So there was no support other than from the Toronto Sun, which had George Anthony as the entertainment editor.

Bill Marshall: He and Brian Linehan were the only two considered the sell-outs, because they went to Hollywood junkets and wrote great things. The very moralistic Toronto press said, “That’s not right. You’re encouraging Hollywood pap.”

Anthony made some calls and, thanks to the Sun journalist, Peter O’Toole and Donald Sutherland attended the second year.

[Photo via: tiffmoments.tumblr.com]