Cameron Bailey Talks TIFF’s Market Plans, China Connections 5

While the Toronto International Film Festival was making headlines this week for its most immediate plans, the event’s CEO Cameron Bailey was 7,000 miles away and looking a little bit further into the future.

This year’s TIFF has announced the first batch of highlights for its September 5-15 edition, including world premieres for the documentary Elton John: Never Too Late and the Amy Adams-led dark comedy Nightbitch, as well as honors for Canadian entertainment royalty in David Cronenberg (2024 Norman Jewison Career Achievement Award) and Sandra Oh (2024 TIFF Tribute Awards Honorary Chair). But what’s really raised eyebrows this year has been the word — first shared in May — that TIFF, starting in 2026, plans to launch its own market, with a $17 million injection from the Canadian government.

For his part, Bailey was on the road this past week, taking up an invitation from the 26th Shanghai International Film Festival to host one panel featuring international filmmakers and another talking about the relationship cities have with cinema. Bailey was making use, also, of an opportunity to rekindle relationships as the Chinese industry continues to re-emerge from pandemic-enforced isolation. He says there will be more such trips ahead, as he spreads the news about those market plans.

In Shanghai, the ever-busy Bailey sat down with The Hollywood Reporter to talk about the week just past, and about TIFF’s future.

The big news has been about TIFF’s plans for a market – and the big question is why?

You know, it’s not so much that we need a market but that I think the industry needs a market in North America that is tied to a film festival. The top markets in Europe, in Berlin and in Cannes, are tied to festivals. I think they benefit — there’s a kind of a symbiosis that comes from that, and they feed off each other. They’re kind of mutual magnets in a way. The festival attracts a certain group of people and the market attracts other people and it’s better to have them together. We don’t have that in North America, but North America is still the biggest market globally. A lot of deals are done informally in Toronto and have been for years but we don’t have the infrastructure, we haven’t provided that. So we started thinking about this pre-pandemic, but it really ramped up during the pandemic when we were closed and had a lot of time to think. And then we started talking to our government. We were making partly a cultural argument about the value of promoting Canadian culture through a market that would bring the world to Canada, but it was largely a trade argument that won the day. Ultimately, it was saying that we could significantly increase the number of people coming in for the festival, if we added a market, that there’d be a knock-on effect on local businesses.

An investment of $17 million is decent. What’s in it for the government?

We’ve talked about a number of different measures, and we’re still working out some of the specifics. We’re still in the development phase. But the idea is that we more than double the number of delegates coming in as industry members. So we’re over 5,000 [but] we want to get up to around 12,000 within the first five years. We want to offer a lot of talent development opportunities. We have nascent programs in terms of developing producers and directors and actors, but we can grow that profile and showcase opportunities for Canada. We can put Canada on the map when it comes to the global industry. I think that’s the main thing.

And what about the timing with AFM coming a few weeks after TIFF

I think we’re doing different things than AFM does. I think AFM leans towards more purely commercial product; we have the sort of festival grade. That’s what we’re going to lean into. We want to have not just finished films, but have companies come with projects, packages that they have up for sale as well. We think there’s enough time between Cannes and Toronto and between Toronto and the AFM to make that work.

How have you been spending your time at SIFF this week?

I came to the Beijing Festival in April and that was the first time I’d been in China in almost five years. I thought I needed to kind of warm these relationships up again, you know, so I came to meet people, more than to see films, although I have seen a couple of films as well. And to kind of just spread the word about the market — we want China to be in Toronto in a big way, in 2026, when it launches. China is one of the biggest industries in the world, but it’s become, I would say, more inward looking over the last few years and five years since I was last here. Obviously, domestic films are doing really, really well here. But I still think there’s value in going beyond China’s borders, even as big as the audiences here are. So, it’s partly that I’m here to say the door is open come to Toronto, do business. I think the world should see the best Chinese films, and I’m hoping that more films from around the world come into China as well.

Is there a plan to expand the Chinese line-up at TIFF this year?

We’ve got a great programmer, Giovanna Fulvi, and she’s always looking for the more arthouse films. In recent years, I’ve begun to look for films that will complete our gala section or are special presentations. We’ve had Zhang Yimou, we’ve had Chen Kaige and we’ve had Jia Zhangke and others like [documentary filmmaker] Wang Bing. There’s a mix, I would say, but I think the appetite is honestly bigger than what we’ve been bringing. I’m trying to grow that. The whole landscape is changing here, as it is globally as well. From what I understand the box office top 10 is frequently all Chinese movies now, which didn’t used to happen. So maybe they don’t feel like there’s a need for these films to travel, but I think there’s still a benefit for everyone.

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