Photo: Angela Lewis/The Grid
Cameron Bailey: Film-fest mastermind
The Toronto International Film Festival’s artistic director spends 50 weeks of the year preparing for 11 days in September—watching movies, meeting talent, and making sure the world’s greatest cinema event goes off without a hitch (no pressure). We caught up with Toronto’s film-buff-in-chief at the TIFF Bell Lightbox Theatre to discuss this year’s opening-night offering, the one time he was star-struck, and the difference between OMG and WTF.
A sci-fi action movie wasn’t what any of us had in mind originally, but it really jumped out. You need a certain size and scale of film for opening night. You want red-carpet opportunities so that our publicity team has something to work with, and we also wanted something that would appeal to a wide range of viewers. Looper is exciting to watch, and it has a lot of great performances. I especially like what Joseph Gordon-Levitt has been doing with his career. He came from the independent film world. Now he’s working in the biggest commercial movies of all, but he still has credibility and authenticity.
Until recent years, you guys seemed pretty committed to opening the fest with a Canadian movie. Why the change of heart?
That was the tradition but, as you say, we have been shaking it up in the last few years. We want to expand the range of what opening night can be. Certainly, it’s very important for the festival to support Canadian filmmaking, but there are other ways to do that. I think in previous years, people coming from outside of Canada saw our opening night as a local, domestic affair, so I wanted to announce to everyone that our festival starts on Thursday.
The last time you opened with a homegrown movie it was Score: A Hockey Musical. How do you view that decision in hindsight? Wasn’t it a bit of a bust?
It wasn’t everybody’s cup of tea, but a lot of people really loved it and enjoyed how much fun [director] Mike McGowan had with our national sport. I have absolutely no regrets, but again, you can’t please everyone.
Looper packs a big movie-star cast—Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis, Emily Blunt, Jeff Daniels. What percentage of your job involves bringing A-listers to Toronto?
We bring the films and the films bring the talent. We’re lucky to have access to a lot of so-called big movies. Once we’ve selected the film then we certainly want to do our best to make sure that all of the actors will be here, but we would never select something based on wanting to get a certain person to Toronto.
Are you up on your celebrity gossip?
Not at all. I have to ask people around the office about who’s dating who, who’s married to who.
So you wouldn’t know what, say, a “trampire” is?
No. What is it?
It’s a vampire tramp, based on the recent Twilight cheating scandal where Kristen Stewart was caught…
Yeah, okay, I did hear about that. That’s a great word.
You’ve met many of the biggest stars of the modern era. Who surprised you the most?
I will always remember the year we had Oprah Winfrey at the festival. That night I discovered that there are some celebrities who have that incredible magnetism in person. She really does command a room when she walks into it. The other big one was Jean-Luc Godard, who is a huge idol of mine and one of the reasons I’m in this world. I met him many years ago, and I was just completely tongue-tied. That is the one time when I really was star-struck.
During the 11 days of TIFF, are you a late-night partier kind of guy or do you need your beauty rest?
The really sad part of this is that parties are not fun for me during the festival.
Exactly. You’re invited to things, and, of course, you go because it’s important to pay your respects. But then it’s off to introduce another film or stop in at another party. I’m glad everybody else is having fun, but it’s not a blast for me. It’s a ceremonial thing. They should probably just put me on a cart and roll me through.
How many different countries have you travelled to this year to program the festival’s international content?
Hmmm…Germany, U.S., Japan, China, Trinidad and Tobago, England, Belgium, France, and India.
On a scale of one to 10, how big of a film snob are you?
Maybe a two. I’m not a film snob at all. I watch Die Hard every year at Christmas.
Yippee ki-yay! Okay, last question. Can you explain one of the festival’s new slogans, “TIFF: Where OMG meets WTF.” Aren’t those expressions sort of interchangeable?
Sure. I can’t believe I’m even answering this question, because I’m not 14 years old! I think OMG can be a wow of surprise, where as WTF is sort of like, ‘What was that?’ So they’re different, slightly different.
Popcorn or candy?
Oxfords or Converse.
Most frequent means of transport?
My feet or my Audi.
Ketchup or mustard?
Mustard, hot or French.
Favourite TV show?
The Bob Newhart Show.
Favourite local bar?
Current state of mind?