The Toronto International Film Festival, or TIFF, started from humble beginnings. In 1976, TIFF, then titled “The Festival of Festivals,” was a collection of features from other film festivals created to satiate Toronto’s eager film scene. Its inaugural opening night was held at the Ontario Cinesphere and hosted a total attendance of about 35,000, a stark difference from the 500,000 that were reported to attend last year.
With its plethora of parties and chic celebrity galas, TIFF has grown into a whole new animal since then, claiming to be “the most important film festival in the world – the largest, the most influential, and the most inclusive,” a profound statement coming from a festival with such humble beginnings. But, while it’s all well and good to hear for sentimentality’s sake, it’s probably more important to see what the real impact of the festival is on Toronto, from both a cultural and economic perspective.
Economically speaking, the modern manifestation of TIFF has proven to have an undeniable effect on local commerce. A study commissioned by TIFF back in 2012-13 estimated that by 2015, economic impact on the local economy would reach $200 million. The closing off of King Street West has also proven beneficial. During the festival, local businesses extend their patios and report record highs in sales from patrons spilling over from the nearby festival headquarters – the TIFF Bell Lightbox – all throughout the weekend. The promenade itself creates a local forum for the festival. An area where fans, media and stars can gather and immerse themselves as a collective in turn creating a visceral buzz around the city.
To the local film community, the benefits of having a premier festival on this scale right in their own backyard is immeasurable. Though not seeing the same box-office results as bigger international draws like Cary Fukunaga’s Beasts of No Nation and John Crowley’s Brooklyn, local films have been grossing higher each year, with a number of films topping the million dollar mark in 2015 – a huge improvement from previous years. Though an international festival that receives submissions from film-makers around the globe, TIFF focuses on promoting Canadian content by highlighting the stories of Canadian artists. Local talent is given the opportunity to intermingle with important figures in the film-industry during the many galas, parties and talks that are held.
Festivals and events like TIFF have evolved with Toronto from its roots as more of a conservative city where, in certain areas like the Junction, selling and consuming alcohol was illegal up until the late 90’s. Present day Toronto, keen on moving forward with progressive urban ideals, now promotes initiatives like the closing off of King Street West to car traffic during TIFF as a mechanism to create a more inclusive festival then what it used to be. Festival-goers are now able enjoy local bars and eateries in walking distance from festival venues extending their hours to 4 a.m. along with the many pop-up stalls from businesses looking to capitalize on the TIFF gold mine. Whether it be fiscal or cultural, the benefits to this Toronto institution are more than just glitter and sparkles, they’re tangible.
So, when you’re queuing up for a chance to see this year’s sleeper pick for an Oscar, or your favourite A-lister, just remember, you along with everyone else in attendance are contributing to make the festival what it is, lucrative, and formative for an ever-changing city.