Local hero: TIFF’s maxine bailey sets out on a creative journey

After nearly two decades, the film festival's public sector fundraiser, lobbyist and Share Her Journey organizer is switching things up

For nearly two decades, maxine bailey has been instrumental in taking the Toronto International Film Festival from scrappy, beloved Toronto gem, to internationally celebrated festival with a red carpet rivalling Cannes.

While her title is vice-president of advancement for TIFF, she’s also known for her encouraging advice to to young people interested in finding roles within the festival, creating opportunities that may never have existed without her. So when she announced at the end of September she would be leaving, many greeted the news with surprise and sadness.

“I just need my shoulders to go down,” bailey (who styles her name in all lower case) says of her decision. “I’ve been working really, really hard for 18 years.”

Bailey’s fundraising work has been integral to several major projects, including the two-year-old public event Festival Street and a takeover of Yonge-Dundas Square that saw Chuck D and Joan Baez take the stage. There’s also the Special Delivery program, which provided children and youth in at-risk communities with free tickets, and the donor-supported education initiative Pocket Fund, which assured no child was turned away from the festival or TIFF’s year-round programing.

But her biggest and most lasting legacies are the funds she helped raise to build the festival’s permanent home, TIFF Bell Lightbox, and Share Her Journey, her creative baby. Launched in 2017, the campaign to empower and raise money for female filmmakers ultimately inspired her decision to move into writing and producing.

“I attended the Cannes Film Festival a few years ago and I got to see a speaker there, Anna Serner – the CEO of the Swedish Film Institute,” bailey explains. “She wanted to know why there weren’t more women making films and being funded. She took some very, very small, immediate steps to actually change that and [today] more women are being funded by the Swedish Film Institute.

“When I came back to Toronto – still pumped from her speech – I was like, ‘What can we do? And what are we doing at TIFF?’”

Internal research of TIFF’s year-end reports revealed the organization was already prioritizing women in many ways, but could it go further?

“If we’re kind of there already, what would happen if we wanted to do more? What would it cost to do more? And if we could, at the end of a five-year program, support 500 female creators, what would that look like? Would that change the narratives of the Canadian films being produced?”

The undertaking led to big changes. TIFF became one of the first North American film fests to sign the 50/50 by 2020 pledge to achieve gender parity in its film lineup. Around 36 per cent of films in the 2018 lineup were directed by women, up by 33 per cent in 2017. And then last year bailey launched Share Her Journey, which prefaced the global explosion of Tarana Burke’s #MeToo movement, Hollywood’s Time’s Up legal defense fund and the Canadian film industry’s #AfterMeToo.

A year later, Share Her Journey is making big strides. A September rally hosted by TIFF Executive Director and COO Michèle Maheux featured speakers Geena Davis, Stacy L. Smith, Amanda Brugel, Keri Putnam, Mia Kirshner, Amma Asante, Nandita Das and Zavia Forrest from the TIFF Next Wave Committee. It drew over 1,000 people, and over 22,000 watched online.

“We wanted to give people a call to action. You can decide to go see female-directed films. You can decide to read books by women. You can actually make a choice,” says bailey. “We’re not disparaging men. We’re just saying that if women are the majority of the population, we should have more stories from women and this is the way to do it.”

Share Her Journey’s campaign is halfway toward its 2020 goal of raising $3 million dollars. The $1.45 million dollars raised has already served more than 100 women in film with everything from business networking and workshops to connecting with industry experts and specialized resources. It’s also funded scholarships for actors, filmmakers and writers, including through fellowships for actors, a writer’s residence, an accelerator program for producers and the TIFF-CBC Screenwriters Award.

“In five years, you’ll have 500 different women who will have gone through these programs,” says bailey. “Even if 10 to 15 per cent go on to make films, that is immensely more than what has been happening right now.”

She’s wrapping up her final weeks at TIFF on a high note. An avid bookworm, she’s a jurist for this year’s Giller Prize. After that, bailey – who previously worked in theatre as a producer/director/writer, a film critic for CBC Radio and a film programmer for Harbourfront Centre – wants to continue supporting creative voices and telling stories via producing and writing projects.

“Just think about what I can do if I’m unleashed into the world,” she adds with melodious laughter. “I’m excited about this next stage of my life.”

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