Years in the making, the TIFF Bell Lightbox is ready for the red carpet.
You might have noticed a distinctly southward drift to the Toronto International Film Festival in the last couple of years. The Varsity and Cumberland Cinemas, so essential to the TIFF experience of the 80s and 90s, are being left behind, with the Scotiabank and AMC Yonge & Dundas 24 becoming principal venues.
This year, it all comes into focus with the opening of TIFF Bell Lightbox, the festival's new entertainment complex on the northwest corner of King and John.
Designed by the architectural firm of Kuwabara Payne McKenna Blumberg, the Lightbox isn't just the fest's new focal point - opening September 12 with an afternoon block party followed by the Special Presentation screening of Bruce McDonald's Trigger - and the new location of TIFF's Cinematheque Ontario. It will also be a year-round destination for cinephiles.
"One of the advantages of TIFF Bell Lightbox is that it has the imprimatur of the film festival and TIFF Cinematheque on it," explains the venue's artistic director, Noah Cowan. "There will be a certain kind of contextualization around our presentations - whether it's onstage talks, engaged learning opportunities or exhibitions - that allows folks who aren't 100 percent cinephiles to actually feel as though they can be part of the history and culture of film themselves."
The building is certainly more welcoming than the Cinematheque's old digs in the AGO's Jackman Hall. The Lightbox feels like a combination of London's National Film Theatre and New York's Museum of Modern Art. The ground floor contains a gallery, a box office, a reception hall, a cafeteria-style restaurant, the O&B Canteen, and a little shop, just like the NFT space in the Southbank Centre. The theatres are upstairs, and along with a concession stand and a proper Oliver & Bonacini resto-bar, it all feels like an amalgamation of MoMA elements.
The Lightbox has five cinemas, the smallest of which can also function as a production studio. The other four are full-time auditoria ranging from a cozy 150 seats in the muted Cinema 4 to 549 plush red chairs in the flagship Cinema 1, which resembles long-gone Toronto movie palaces like the Uptown 1 or the Eglinton.
In addition to hosting Cinematheque Ontario, which starts its fall season almost as soon as TIFF wraps up, the Lightbox will function as a conventional multiplex for audiences with unconventional tastes. Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives and Xavier Dolan's Heartbeats will open in regular engagements on September 23, just days after their TIFF premieres; McDonald's Trigger will open the following Thursday. (Yes, Thursday. Lightbox programming will roll over on Thursdays instead of Fridays, just to be different.)
"You know, this is a great filmgoing town," Cowan says. "We have a fairly enlightened commercial cinema group booking films. We still have repertory houses, which is unusual in North America. We have a fantastic group of artist-run centres also engaged in moving-image presentation. I think our first calendar represents where we can live most comfortably within that landscape."
The Lightbox will also serve as a home for restorations of classic cinema. As part of Cinematheque Ontario's Essential Cinema program, Orson Welles's Citizen Kane and Michelangelo Antonioni's L'Avventura will open September 23. Other bookings include a new print of Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho with a six-channel surround soundtrack (October 28) and a major restoration of Fritz Lang's Metropolis (November 11).
"TIFF Cinematheque has been doing a spectacular job in terms of revivals and restorations," Cowan says, "but we feel as though the audience for those can be greatly expanded with TIFF Bell Lightbox. The Essential Cinema film show puts forward a proposition for people to experience revivals in a way that hasn't been available in this city - really accessible films are being restored on an ongoing basis.
"We think Toronto deserves more than one screening of the six-channel Psycho."