Hollywood Flashback: In 1976, Jeanne Moreau Shined Her Light on the Very First TIFF

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Jeanne Moreau

Then called the Festival of Festivals, the inaugural TIFF featured the French cinema icon's directorial debut, 'Lumiere.'

In 1976, French actress Jeanne Moreau gave a fledgling film festival a dose of star power. Then in the prime of her career with more than 60 titles to her name, Moreau brought her directorial debut, Lumiere, to the inaugural Toronto International Film Festival (then called the Festival of Festivals, it was renamed in 1995).

The 48-year-old had become a French cinema icon following the success of two features released in 1958, both helmed by Louis MalleElevator to the Gallows and The Lovers, and for her frequent collaborations with renowned directors Francois Truffaut, Wim Wenders and Orson Welles (who called her “the greatest actress in the world”).

Though Lumiere was panned by THR as a “curiously dispiriting disappointment,” the film earned Francine Racette a Cesar Award supporting actress nomination in 1977 and was one of three French features chosen to screen at TIFF’s very first gala presentation, which was otherwise heavily focused on German cinema. 

Founded by Bill Marshall, Henk van der Kolk and Dusty Cohl, the new festival served as a place where the best films from other festivals held around the world were shown at Toronto’s Windsor Arms Hotel. That year, 35,000 attended to watch 127 features from 30 countries. Moreau, now 87, returned to Toronto in 2001, the year the festival nearly was canceled after the 9/11 terrorist attacks (ultimately a subdued and red-carpet-free version went on), and for the festival’s 30th edition in 2005 with Francois Ozon’s Time to Leave.

"You saw the beginnings of major stars coming to Toronto in year three. And by year four, you have Malcolm McDowell, George Romero, Susan Sarandon, James Woods, David Steinberg," Piers Handling, festival director and CEO since 1994, tells THR. “The festival had been knocking on Hollywood’s door. And it opened slowly.”

TIFF, which this go-round welcomes famous faces such as Matt Damon and Jake Gyllenhaal, celebrates its 40th anniversary this year.

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