Cameron Bailey and Piers Handling spoke to Screen in between screenings in London.

The Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) (Sept 10-20) is putting the spotlight on London for this year’s City to City programme, featuting filmmakers living and working in the UK capital.

Festival CEO Piers Handling and artistic director Cameron Bailey, who was born in London, spoke to ScreenDaily during their screening-packed visit to the British capital ahead of the line-up announcement in August.

What is your screening schedule like at the moment as we edge closer to the festival?

Cameron Bailey: This is prime time for screening. After London, Piers goes off to Warsaw and Rome, I go off to Beijing, Tokyo and Mumbai - and we go to Paris in the middle.

Piers Handling: We need to have some good food.  

CB: Not that there’s anything wrong with the food here [laughs]. But the next two or three weeks are the final push for screenings.

PH: We lock the programme in July.

How many films do you see?

CB: I see about 700 in a year. Overall, the entire programming team sees around 5,000.

There’s great stuff happening in so many different corners of the planet, and we’re lucky that we have the kind of programming team that can fan out around the world and see films.

PH: In London, we have about 65 films on the list. In Paris, there will be about another 80. It’s brutal at this time of the year.

What is it about a film that makes you want it for Toronto?

Handling: Each one of us has different sets of tastes, but I think it has to connect with you. And then, you can advocate for it.

What works on you can be a range of different things. In some cases, it’s just a really well made film, telling a really good story. In other cases it’s incredibly wild, ambitious, adventurous, outrageous, funny, challenging.

Sometimes it’s just subject matter - the filmmakers have chosen to focus on something really, really important, and they’ve done a really good job in terms of dealing with that subject.

I think every one of us is looking for something a little bit different than the others. But I think all our tastes are more or less in sync, which is what gives the festival it’s cohesion - but not entirely.

The Midnight Madness programme is looking for very, very different kinds of films than we tend to be looking for, in some ways.

But I think it’s the film that lifts you out of your seat. I refer to it as the spaghetti principle - it’s the ones that stick when you throw the spaghetti against the wall. It’s the ones that stick.

You’ll actually really remember about 8 to 10 films incredibly well, and those are the ones that stick with you for a reason.

What can you say about your screenings in London?

CB: This is an exciting time for us to be here because we’re putting the spotlight on London this year. We’ll have eight films from filmmakers who are living and working here, in addition to our usual UK selection.

We’re digging deeper this year, and we’re finding some interesting new voices. We’ve asked our partners here to cast the net a little wider, and I think we’re turning up some strong works.  

Why did you choose London for this year’s City to City programme?

CB: London is interesting because over the last few years we’ve seen a new generation of filmmakers that are identifying themselves and creating work that separates them a little bit from the previous generation.

This is no longer the Mike Leigh, Ken Loach generation. This is Steve McQueen, Lynne Ramsey and people like that who are doing very different work, work of great artistic ambition, and work of great emotional intensity as well.

We felt there was more to it than that, and there was a new generation of filmmakers that were maybe aligned more with the younger people whose work we’ve been showing, to great success in Toronto. We want to introduce that next generation to the audience.

What do you have planned for your 40th anniversary?

PH: Hard to imagine, isn’t it? We’ve got a bunch of activities planned. It’s more going to be a celebration of the public of Toronto, because we’ve based the success of the event around them and their participation is really a public event - probably more so than any other festival apart from Berlin.

There will be a lot of free activities, just to thank them, which will start actually before the festival and continue after the festival. So there’ll be 40 screenings spaced over about a four oto five-month period.

But I think the key thing that we want to stress is that it’s not really about looking backwards; it’s about looking forward. So we have started two new programmes this year, which are, I think forward looking.

Those are a television programme, called Prime Time, and a competitive section called Platform.

That really is an attempt to sort of take the festival into the next ten years of its life towards its 50th anniversary.

Long form television, I think has churned up some of the most interesting narrative in recent years and a lot of filmmakers are moving in that direction, filmmakers that we’ve had long associations with: Soderbergh, Agnieszka Holland, Sorrentino.  

It’s not designed to be just focussed on English language and we’re really looking for some of the most interesting international foreign language TV series that a lot of North Americans are not exposed to.

I think Platform is designed to put some emphasis on auteur-driven cinema, especially international foreign language, but not entirely. There’ll be some English language productions there as well.

But it’s just to re-calibrate the festival a little bit, because obviously we attract so many English language films, all kind of jostling for the Oscar, Golden Globe/BAFTA’s, and I think its time to kind of re-calibrate that a little bit, and re-emphasize our commitment to international, foreign-language cinema, so hopefully Platform is going to do that.  

While the two would not comment on TIFF’s premieres policy, here is the festival’s official statement on the matter…

For the 2015 Festival there will continue to be a Premieres Policy in place. When we put this policy in place, our goal was to provide clarity pertaining to premiere status for the filmmakers, the public, the media and the industry.

After the festival concluded we reached out to a number of key stakeholders that were impacted by the policy and solicited their advice. Based on that feedback, we have made some minor adjustments to the policy to ensure that Toronto continues to do what is best for the filmmaker and the film while at the same time providing Toronto audiences with a fantastic festival experience.

As such, in 2015, all films playing in the first four days of the Festival must be a World Premiere or North American premiere if they are to screen at the following venues: Roy Thomson Hall, Princess of Wales and the Visa Screening Room at the Elgin Theatre. Canadian premieres may screen in these three venues from the Monday onwards, or in any other Festival venue throughout the 11 days of the Festival.

This policy does not affect the selection of titles, only the scheduling of them. We remain fully committed to bringing the best of international cinema to Toronto audiences. We will continue to select and schedule titles in a way that makes the most sense for our various audiences and filmmakers.