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“When the pandemic happened, suddenly you have to really learn the entire business in greater detail than ever before and going through that experience helped me to get to this point where I thought, yes, I can take this on,” Bailey told The Hollywood Reporter.
As artistic director, Bailey had programmed the film festival and overseen its year-round artistic direction. But the CEO title eluded the 25-year veteran of TIFF when Piers Handling stepped down from that role after the 2018 edition and the festival’s board of directors named him and newly-appointed managing director Joana Vicente to the role of co-heads.
TIFF having to stage hybrid streaming and limited in-person events for two years running convinced Bailey he could lead the prestigious festival solo after Vicente stepped down after the 2021 edition to return to the U.S. and replace Keri Putnam as CEO of the Sundance Institute, the media and arts nonprofit that hosts the Sundance Film Festival.
“I felt I was ready now to take on the position as we went through a process with the board, we talked it all through, and this is the result,” he added about recent CEO succession talks at the organization. Bailey’s new position follows Jeffrey Remedios, chairman and CEO of Universal Music Canada, being named TIFF’s new chair of the board.
Bailey started out at TIFF as a programmer with Perspective Canada and launched the Planet Africa section. He became artistic director in 2012, and before that was festival co-director along with Handling from 2008 to 2012.
Bailey will now ascend to the TIFF festival throne as it continues to redefine its 45-year-old event model amid renewed pandemic waves and a fast-changing streaming space. He added that major film festivals facing an “existential crisis” brought on by the pandemic — with theater shutdowns and an accelerated shift toward streaming — had TIFF rising to the challenge with a root-and-branch overhaul of the organization.
“We had to question every single thing we did. In some cases, we have to come up with brand new solutions that we’ve never done before. To do that, Joana and I had to roll up our sleeves and get into the nuts and bolts at TIFF and work with our teams to figure out how to do things for the first time,” Bailey explained.
The Toronto festival aims to return to growth as Americans and other international filmmakers, media and other industry attendees return in-person in September 2022, even as Hollywood and festivals everywhere adjust to film audiences going virtual. “Recognizing how audience behavior is changing is going to feed into how big the festival is, but it can certainly be bigger than it was this year,” Bailey said.
Bell Lightbox, the Toronto festival’s year-round home only recently reopened its doors after being shuttered during the pandemic and the organization has begun to plan for the 2022 edition of the annual film festival. Since the first pandemic lockdowns in 2020, international travel restrictions imposed by the coronavirus crisis hampered efforts by TIFF to program international art house auteurs, while also serving Hollywood studios and streamers with prized film launch slots, red-carpet mania and glitzy parties.
Bailey argues the return of film audiences, directors and stars to Toronto red carpets and theaters in 2022 should restore TIFF’s shine as a collective filmgoing experience and an award season launchpad. “Toronto as a festival starts when people gather together in a movie theater and react to a film that they’re seeing for the first time, and that generates what the media and the industry responds to. And that excitement can really only happen in person,” he said.
Besides an increasingly tough indie film business, TIFF in recent years has seen potential Oscar winners show up first in Venice and Telluride, where breakout movies are quickly talked about on social media. Despite marquee film festivals collaborating during the pandemic to survive amid theater closures, Bailey expects competition for bragging rights to world premieres and Hollywood stars to also return in 2022, albeit with more camaraderie.
“That competitive aspect will always be there, but now that we’ve stared in the face the prospect of not even being able to take place, we see our colleagues in a different way,” Bailey said.
“Even as we’re competing, we’ll embrace our colleagues just that more tightly,” he added.
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