TIFF 2012: Interview with Artistic Director Cameron Bailey
Remember this saying: behind every great man there is a great woman? Well in similar context, behind every great festival is a great director. Cameron Bailey has been with the Toronto International Film Festival for many years, enhancing international partnerships, innovating the annual festival and developing new programs to engage local audiences. His recent title change to Artistic Director reflects his involvement with the organization and his commitment to bring great film to the city. We had a chance to sit down with the director and talk about many things, including his journey in film, his insight into TIFF 2012, his thoughts about the Indian film industry and the evolution of the TIFF brand.
Bailey began his journey in film as a journalist, writing for Toronto’s NOW magazine and various other outlets. “[It] gave me the opportunity to analyze films and express my opinion”, he said.”I have always liked to do that and communicate with an audience.” Soon after, he joined the festival and its programming team and has remained with the organization since. ” What programming adds to [being a film critic] is the ability to advocate for films, to really say ‘this is something that I love and I hope you love it too and here it is’. So much of programming is really personal. It’s about your own personal passions, your personal taste. You find something and you feel like you have discovered it. Although filmmakers have spent months, sometimes years, making it but you feel like you have discovered it because you have seen it for the first time, sometimes before the public audience has seen it. That ability to respond to your own passion about a film and to bring it, in this case, to the Toronto International Film Festival – which is such a huge public platform – where you can present it to so many people. That’s what being a critic doesn’t give you. It’s that additional ability to present, to advocate for work that you feel is important.”
Choosing the right film for a festival is no easy task. Many criteria must be fulfilled to be accepted into any festival. Every programmer has his or her own primary criteria. So does Bailey. “I think I’m looking most for is a point of view”, he said. “That means, in many cases a strong personal voice; something to say through the specific medium of film.” Every filmmaker has a desire to share a specific story or idea but, as Bailey said, ” not all of them speak through images and sounds in the way that the best filmmakers do.” That is precisely what he looks for in film. A “perspective that’s uniquely cinematic”. He went on to explain, “I think where I always find the most inspiration is when I feel like ‘oh yeah, I can feel the artists eye, and voice and hand in this work’ and it’s a confident voice.” Many times individuals focus on the “technical mastery” of film, always eyeing the tiny little details. Bailey had something to say about that. ” You can buy technical mastery, especially these days”, he began to explain. “You have the right equipment, you have the right technicians working for you, you could produce a very polished film. If you got nothing to say, if you don’t have a way of speaking through the medium, its meaningless.”
Bailey is an informed programmer. His discipline in choosing films is enough to see that. However, his true understanding of film and the industry as a whole shone through our conversation about Indian cinema. With the rapid growth of Bollywood and this year’s spotlight on Mumbai in the City-to-City series, Bailey shared with us his opinion on the rapid shift we see of Indian cinema into the western markets. “I think a lot of different things are happening all at the same time and overlapping. On the one hand, you see the expansion of Bollywood cinema, of Indian commercial cinema – Hindi commercial cinema particularly – into the mainstream in North America. If you go to any major multiplex in Toronto, Vancouver, New York, Los Angeles, you will find Indian movies playing. Every weekend there are big openings. Certainly the people in Mumbai are counting those grosses because they add up to a lot. That international market is hugely important to the Indian commercial cinema, more and more so. You could extend that to the Tamil Cinema as well which is also very popular, especially in Toronto.”
“As the Indian Cinema is expanding and becoming a part of the overall mainstream movie landscape in North America, there’s this other wave that is happening which is this independent wave, coming largely out of Mumbai but out of Delhi and other places as well”, he continued, touching upon this year’s focus on Mumbai. “In the City-to-City program, I was interested to put together films like Gangs of Wasseypur 1 and 2; Anurag Kashyap being one of the prime champions of this new kind of filmmaking in India. With a film like Shanghai by Dibakar Banerjee, who straddles that divide between commercial and independent cinema. Then a film like Ishaqzaade, which is really a commercial film. It’s made by Yash Raj. You can’t get a studio more commercial than Yash Raj and yet you find in the filmmaking style and the way that the script’s been written, an attempt to find some of that edge, a little bit more danger, I suppose, that you see in this new independent cinema.”
This rise of independent filmmakers has resulted in a noticeable change in the Indian film industry. “There is a kind of overlapping, a weaving together of these kinds of strands of filmmaking”, Bailey explained. ” I think that in time you will probably see more of the commercial cinema in India change to reflect what’s going on. We’ve seen it happen in different places before where a crop of maverick filmmakers – whether its people like Arthur Penn in the 1960′s or Spike Lee in the 1980′s – come up and really change the commercial norm and I think you’re going to see more of that.”
“What I like about this new independent wave is that they are not rejecting commercial cinema.”, continuing the subject. “They are saying, ‘we like telling movies to wide audiences, we like lots of people coming to see our films but we just think there are new ways to tell stories’.” In the case of the City-to-City series, Bailey explains that “they are taking influences from East Asia, from South Korean films, from South India – from Tamil films in the case of Gangs of Wasseypur – from Hollywood films to European films, and bringing that all together in a very uniquely Indian context.” On a general note, Bailey noted the existence of “constant cross pollination” between commercial and independent film, with an active discussion that exists between both communities. With that said, he shared his opinion on the independent sector. “I love independent movies because these are often movies that are not made for commercial intentions, at least not primarily. They are made because there is some story that the filmmaker wants to tell, some expression they want to communicate on screen. Sometimes it’s just something that’s very personal that they need to puzzle their way through. They don’t necessarily have an answer but they just want to work it through using the medium of film.”
TIFF is an ever evolving brand, constantly growing every year. With that said, Bailey has many goals he would like to achieve. “I think we have to evolve in reaction and response to our context. Part of that is the City of Toronto, which has changed a lot in 37 years from the time we started in 1976″, he said. “It’s a completely different city and I think we are trying to reflect the city that we live in today, as opposed to the city we lived in years ago. Part of it is also just the global film industry has changed as well. It is, I think, a much more international world. More films are being made across nations, across continents. Co-productions are more and more the norm. It’s easier to make films between places now than it used to be. People are just more mobile, so i think that we also need to reflect that more and more.” With a festival that prides its strength in the North American market, Bailey also added that “there’s work to do in Asia, in Eastern Europe; certain parts of the world where [they] can spend more time, bring more films, introduce those films to [local] audiences .” The one amazing change we have seen from TIFF is its evolution in programming to account for young generations, especially students. With programs such as Nexus and Nextwave, younger generations can finally interact and engage with films earlier in their hopeful careers. “I wish that when I was 15/16, I had that kind of thing available to me. I didn’t get into movies in this serious way until I was in University but now I think you can do that in high school, which is great!”
We did put Bailey in a bit of a spot when we asked him for the “Cameron Bailey Pick” for TIFF 2012. “I’ve been spending the last eight, nine months watching hundreds and hundreds of films, winnowing it down to that final number. You get passionate about so many films, I cannot choose just one! It’s impossible to do!” With that said, he did share some amazing advice on how to go about experiencing the festival: “I personally have my name assigned to a number of films in the festival. If you are at all interested in what I or any of the other programmers at the festival are passionate about, read the notes that are on the website or in our programme book and find something that speaks to you as well. I would say also, since there are so many films to choose from, find a film that you suspect may not come back here. Even as we show a lot of big movies and commercial films that are going to be in theatres over the next several months, a lot of films will play only at the festival and you will never see again. You won’t even see them on DVD or on Netflix or on iTunes or on anything else, they just won’t be back in Toronto. You can usually tell because those are the films without Canadian distributors and that’s all listed in our programme book. My advice to anybody who wants to seek out those particular gems is to look for something that you will only have the chance to see at the festival and make sure you get a ticket to that.”
Cameron Bailey; a well spoken gentleman who not only shares a passion for film but also a passion for engaging audiences. He and his team have worked tirelessly over the past few months to pick and choose hundreds of films to showcase at the 37th Annual Toronto International Film Festival. In just a few days, Toronto and international audiences will get to see the result of their work first hand.
TIFF 2012 runs from September 6th – 16th. For more information about the festival, the film schedule and tickets, please visit: tiff.net/thefestival
Photo Credit: Toronto International Film Festival