TIFF celebrates opening of Bell Lightbox

Five-story complex to serve as year-round home for festival 

TORONTO -- The Toronto International Film Festival threw open the doors on its new downtown home Bell Lightbox on Sunday.

On its long-anticipated official opening day, TIFF CEO Piers Handling used a giant set of scissors to cut a strip of celluloid film that was wrapped round the entrance of the five-story King Street complex.

And looking on was Hollywood director Ivan Reitman and son Jason, both using their smartphones to capture home movie video footage of the inauguration.

"This has been their (TIFF's) dream for decades, and it's been a dream for my family. That it's finally real is meaningful for them and certainly for my family," an emotional Ivan Reitman said minutes after the ribbon was cut and a crowd of ordinary Torontonians started filing in through the front doors of Bell Lightbox

Torontonians waited 10 years to see those doors open.

Reitman and his two sisters first proposed partnering with TIFF to build a year-round home for the festival on family-owned land in 2001, a year after TIFF first fielded interest from local property developers.

Originally purchased by their parents, Leslie and Clara Reitman, the King Street location first accommodated a family-run car wash, and then for decades a commercial parking lot.

For years, construction delays and the 2008 market meltdown that frustrated fund-raising efforts contributed to a feeling TIFF may never welcome the global film industry into its first-ever permanent home.

Jason Reitman, who long watched from the sidelines as his father and TIFF designed and built Bell Lightbox, was equally emotional Sunday as a year-round festival home for Toronto finally became a reality.

"It (Bell Lightbox) only secures the Toronto film festival as the most important film festival in the world," he insisted.

For Piers Handling, Sunday's launch was especially emotional, given the hurdles he and the organization he leads had to overcome to make Bell Lightbox a reality.

"We've sweated for this. We've raised money for this. I always thought that we would do it. Even when we had challenges in our way, I always thought we'd do it," Handling said.

TIFF executive director Michelle Maheaux was equally emotional about the ten-year journey that reached its destination Sunday.

"It's the best gift for the organization, to get this building. It's young and hip and an invitation for everyone in Toronto to come in and hang about," she said.

Bell Lightbox houses five public cinemas, two galleries, three learning studios and a bistro, restaurant and a lounge.

The largest of the cinemas, with 550 seats, can host an awards show or gala.

And the second-floor lounge features a view of the red carpet at Roy Thomson Hall, where TIFF is hosting nightly star-driven premieres through September 19.

For the film industry, Bell Lightbox also promises an annual hub for the Toronto festival, and a sudden shift in focus away from Yorkville and towards King Street and Toronto's downtown entertainment district.
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