TIFF Programmers on How Toronto Is Leading the Push for Gender Parity

Photographed by Jennifer Roberts
Kerri Craddock and Cameron Bailey were photographed Aug. 27 at TIFF headquarters at Bell Lightbox.

Cameron Bailey and Kerri Craddock discuss the importance of removing discouraging barriers to women and other minority voices, and the need to shake up the status quo at North America's busiest film fest.

In the past year, Toronto International Film Festival artistic director and co-head Cameron Bailey, 55, and director of programming Kerri Craddock, 38, have bolstered their progressive bona fides by installing 13 women (and nine men) as fest programmers and adding nearly 200 more film writers and critics to support underrepresented voices at major film events.

The moves were driven in part by the widespread #MeToo-era call for more inclusiveness in the global film industry — and that includes film festivals — and the Toronto organizers’ desire to lead that charge.

Bailey and Craddock sat down with THR before the kickoff of their event’s 43rd edition to discuss removing discouraging barriers to women and other minority voices and the need to shake up the status quo at North America’s busiest film fest.

You recently announced that you had reached gender parity on your festival programming team. How did you achieve that?

KERRI CRADDOCK A lot of that happened organically. As we hired new programmers as others move on, we never made a conscious decision to hire a woman over a man. But we’ve had an eye to diversity, or just having that female perspective. And people that stood out when opportunities arose happened to be women who earned their way.

What drove the move to add nearly 200 more film writers and critics to cover and review your slate?

CAMERON BAILEY It’s become increasingly clear that the opinions being formed at a festival like our own are sometimes not the same as the opinions formed when a film goes into general release and all audiences get access to it. That’s an interesting discrepancy, because it becomes clear that the critics forming the first opinions vary from the general audience. Critics always do. But we’ve increasingly seen a demographic difference too, where you get more women having voices when you go to the general population for their reaction to a movie, and you get more [people of] color and queer responses to what affects society as a whole. And the population of film critics that attends major festivals isn’t there yet.

CRADDOCK We also started noticing this after last year’s festival — that films premiered here to great acclaim, or didn’t receive terrific reviews, and then had a different response when they went into wider release and more critics had a chance to see them, whether women or people of color. That had us asking how we could have better across-the-board representation at the festival, because we have audiences that respond well to the films and want to make sure we are giving the films as much of a chance from the critical perspective by opening up the breadth of our press corps.

That wider range of opinions is also not only due to the critic or the writer, and their backgrounds, but which platform they represent, whether traditional media or online.

BAILEY This evolution is happening in concert with the evolution in media generally. It’s clear that, for more than a decade, online forms of media, including social media, have become dominant in terms of forming opinions. And traditional media has responded to that. So yes, as you get a wider range of opinions to films demographically, you’re also getting them disseminated in different ways. It’s clear that Twitter is getting influential on traditional media, and there’s a conversation between the two being formed.

Are you also urging traditional media and new digital voices to hire more diverse voices when it comes to their own festival coverage?

BAILEY That’s definitely been a part of the conversation. But it’s been more important to listen to the journalists who don’t currently have those mainstream outlets, yet are influential voices. I certainly see this when it comes to responses from black influential voices online, for instance, who are writing about Moonlight, I Am Not Your Negro, Get Out, BlacKkKlansman and Sorry to Bother You. They’re not necessarily writing for mainstream magazines and newspapers, but they help shape the opinion around these films. They should be among those seeing those films first, and often they premiere at festivals. If BlacKkKlansman is in the Palais at Cannes, some of those voices should be in the Palais at Cannes.

At Sundance and Cannes, there’s been a push for gender parity in the film business amid the Time’s Up and #MeToo campaigns. What do you see as your contribution from Toronto?

CRADDOCK That has always been important to us, and we like to consider ourselves a leader in that space. That goes back to the people making the choices on what films we show. We have more than gender parity in terms of the number of women on the [programming] team. We have so many diverse voices considering what we think is the best cinema, and that yields different answers than from a team that doesn’t look that way. The other part is, we program first and foremost for our audience, and they’re a reflection of the world. Half of the city are women, and Toronto is one of the most multicultural cities in the world. So we’re always programming with that in mind.

Toronto this year got to 36 percent of its lineup comprised of films that were directed by women. How important is that statistic for you?

CRADDOCK It really helps to catch these things. It’s about tracking these numbers and analyzing that information. What we did internally was also look at the breakdown of female filmmakers in different sections. It’s very compelling. Our Discovery section is almost at 50/50, men and women. But those are people with first and second films at the festival. You can always say it’s easier for a woman to make her first film, and it gets harder as you advance in your career. Or you can say that’s a sign of hope, that funders are more willing to give opportunities to women. And sadly, our Masters section is all men; there are no female filmmakers there. That really tells a story. And our shorts section is at more than 50 percent female filmmakers. That shows how much easier it is to make a film earlier in your career.

Is Canada’s push for gender parity and diversity taken from the top, specifically from Justin Trudeau’s federal government?

CRADDOCK I actually see the [government] agencies as being late to the game, and it has taken a push from the industry, from the artists themselves. And I would like to think that people like us in curatorial positions can make a difference in influencing government policy. But it takes one to do the other, and everyone can push each other to the next level.

This story also appears in The Hollywood Reporter's Sept. 7 daily issue at the Toronto Film Festival.