Toronto: TIFF becomes world's largest public movie festival

Toronto is abuzz with celebrity chatter as Hollywood’s brightest descend on the city. It’s a surprising feat for what started as a little Canadian film festival that has grown to dwarf anything else in North America.

The Toronto International Film Festival has become Hollywood’s best chance to showcase Oscar-worthy films.

The elite cultural showcase is on par with anything else in the world, second only to Cannes and yet still humble enough to keep its doors open to the public while France’s festival remains the exclusive territory of the silver screen’s upper nobility.

Amateur and professional paparazzi alike will soon be staking out Toronto’s swankiest hotels and entertainment district as a flurry of media and industry folks arrive for opening night on Thursday.

TIFF still hosts Canadian films, its founding mission, but within a menagerie of potential blockbusters, celebrity sightings, and an ever-growing international profile. It is now one of the most influential film festivals in the world, and the largest public film festival.

This year, TIFF will feature 372 films from 72 countries, 146 of which are world premieres.

Alongside its mission to showcase Canadian films in an international context, the festival also aspires to “lead the world in cultural and creative discovery.” And what better place to do that than in Toronto, one of the most ethnically diverse cities in the world.

Ironically, Hollywood refused to participate in TIFF’s early days, believing Toronto audiences to be too parochial, according to an article by film critic David Sterritt. However they were anything but, and Hollywood shortly learned its lesson with movie stars like Jack Nicholson soon showing up on TIFF’s red carpet.

Today, TIFF is a favoured place to premiere big movies, some of which have gone on to earn Oscars, such as “American Beauty” (1999), “Slumdog Millionaire” (2008), and “The King’s Speech” (2010).

It’s no wonder industry insiders see TIFF as a good place to generate Oscar buzz. For many films, the road to an Oscar begins by winning TIFF’s People’s Choice Awards, given to the most popular film voted by TIFF audience members.

Despite its prestige, TIFF remains humble in its respect for movies and moviegoers. Unlike exclusive festivals that are by invitation-only, TIFF screenings are open to the public and audiences are often treated to a Q&A with members of the cast and crew, offering the chance to catch a glimpse of Angelina Jolie or have an insightful discussion about social justice.

With its growth, TIFF has aimed towards creating a year-round experience with the festival’s new state of the art building, the Bell Lightbox, which plays host to screenings, workshops, other festivals, lectures and seminars—a hub of activity for film devotees and aspiring filmmakers.

TIFF has always been successful; it attracted 35,000 audience members in 1976, but now it is an acknowledged heavyweight with 400,000 people attending last year.

The International Toronto Film Festival runs from Sept. 6-16 at various venues across downtown Toronto. For complete information, visit

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