Q&A: Piers Handling

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Through the years, Piers Handling, CEO of the Toronto International Film Festival Group since 1994, has pulled off the seemingly impossible, from making Toronto an A-list festival and a launchpad for fall Oscar contenders, to founding Sprockets: The Toronto International Film Festival for Children.

Now he's taken on his biggest challenge yet -- building Bell Lightbox, the festival group's year-round headquarters in Toronto, projected to open in 2010.

The Hollywood Reporter's Etan Vlessing caught up with Handling to discuss the latest progress on Bell Lightbox.

Hollywood Reporter: Bell Lightbox, Toronto's future year-round headquarters, is under construction. Is there a launch date yet?

Piers Handling: We don't have an opening date. We just don't want to get into a situation where you're trapped into an opening date, and you're trying to rush like crazy and spending more money to get the building finished. So we're not putting an opening date on it.

THR: But September 2010 is a good ballpark date?

Handling: We just don't know. There could be construction delays or forces of nature. It's really tricky and dangerous for us to say we'll be in for the 2010 festival. If we don't meet that deadline, for whatever reason, people will say the building is late.

THR: Are you any closer to defining the form and function of Bell Lightbox, aside from its five cinemas?

Handling: The building is a means to an end. This is really about expanding our programming and doing more of it in a most general way. So the overriding philosophy is to bring together the film-loving public, Canadian and international filmmakers, industry professionals, academics, and visitors and tourists to Toronto to explore what we're all about, which is the power of cinema. And when they're in Bell Lightbox, they will experience the culture, the historical legacy and the future of cinema.

THR: Bell Lightbox will also be the hub of the festival itself in Sept., with red-carpeted steps?

Handling: It will be the home, the center of activities for TIFF in September, that 10 days. It will be like the Palais in Cannes; it will anchor the festival. We will have five cinemas and will still need cinemas around town.

THR: Could the festival mount a film market at Bell Lightbox outside the bounds of TIFF?

Handling: I think markets by their nature are limited in time. The industry wants to go to three, maybe four, markets a year. When I started to go to Cannes, everyone went for the full 12 days. Now, most people stay maybe seven days. It's too much time away from the office, and they can do their business more quickly. The market in Berlin also basically runs six days, maybe seven. The days of MIFED and AFM and Cannes and Berlin -- where people would go for 12 days -- those days are over.
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