Toronto International Film Festival co-director Noah Cowan is giving up his position to assume responsibility for year-round programming at the Toronto International Film Festival Group's (TIFFG) new headquarters, Bell Lightbox, with the title of artistic director. Cowan, who joined TIFFG CEO Piers Handling as co-director four years ago, will be replaced as co-director by long-time festival programmer Cameron Bailey. The changes are effective January 1, 2008
The switch-up was triggered by the departure of Jim Hamilton, the former head of the UK's National Film Theatre who joined TIFFG as the programming director of the long-gestating project in April 2006 and was tipped for the role of artistic director. When Hamilton announced plans to return to his native UK, Handling and Cowan began the search for a replacement.
Reached on holiday in Texas, Cowan told Screen International that recruitment process convinced him he himself was the right candidate. The post of artistic director, he said, 'dove-tailed with where my interests are heading. I'm substituting a very glamourous and powerful job for an exciting and challenging job.'
Although not slated to open until 2010, TIFFG's Bell Lightbox promises to be 'a cultural anchor' for the city, he said. 'No institution will resemble it. We are planning to make film and the moving image the central part of a larger cultural story, to explore where it intersects with other media.' Cowan will continue programming for TIFF but on a limited level.
Saying he was as surprised as anyone by Cowan's move, Handling told Screen he suspected Cowan sensed an opportunity to be an agent of change; something he could not as easily accomplish in the co-director slot. '[TIFF] is a machine that runs itself now,' said Handling. 'And when you move into the director's role you are not going to change it in a significant way.' Citing his own experience implementing major programming initiatives over the years, he said, 'To a certain extent, those days are over. It's a very successful festival. Why would we want to change it''
While the film festival remains the signal event in TIFFG's calendar, Handling said the goal is to make Lightbox as 'sexy and serious as the festival.' Cowan's appointment, he said, 'sends a message to the industry.'
As for Bailey, the decision was simple. Brought back into the fold by Cowan when the latter began his co-directing tenure, there was no one in the organization with better qualifications and contacts. Bailey is traveling overseas and was unavailable.
'Rather than a duo,' said Cowan, 'I would characterize it as having an artistic trio.'