Toronto International Film Festival Names Cameron Bailey Co-Head

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Cameron Bailey

The fest's board is splitting power at the top as longtime CEO Piers Handling prepares to give up the TIFF throne.

Toronto International Film Festival artistic director Cameron Bailey is adding co-head to his duties.

Bailey will have to share power atop the prestigious festival when longtime CEO Piers Handling steps down, as planned, in September. Toronto's board of directors, reinventing TIFF as it faces increasing competition from Venice and Telluride to set the Oscar-season table, has decided to also hire a managing director and co-head to serve alongside Bailey.

The TIFF board is looking internationally for a second co-head to specifically oversee the festival's business end and is expected to fill the role before this year's edition in September. The new power-sharing arrangement will see Bailey, as artistic director and co-head, continue to program the film festival and oversee its artistic direction.

Bailey has been artistic director since 2012, and before that he was festival co-director along with Handling from 2008-2012. "With a five-year strategic plan for TIFF launched this year, and more changes on the horizon for our industry, we believe a two-headed structure is right for the future success of TIFF,” board chair Jennifer Tory said Thursday in a statement, citing TIFF's new five-year plan for 2018-2022, co-written by Bailey.

The new power-sharing arrangement is seen as a way to continue programming international art house auteurs, while also serving Hollywood studios with red-carpet mania and glitzy parties; distributors battling for prized film launch slots in Toronto, Venice and Telluride; and an informal film sales market.

"I am honored to be entrusted with guiding the future of TIFF," Bailey said in his own statement. That future is clouded with challenge as the fest, dominated by Hollywood A-listers and autumn premieres, strives to be all flavors to all people while a fast-changing digital age steadily redefines film and TV.

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. That has left Toronto as less of the great film discoverer it once was.

TIFF's traditional axis of convenience, which allows studio and other star-driven American movies to build buzz in Venice or Telluride before arriving here, in recent years has undermined its reputation as the official award season launchpad. Bailey in response has signaled that he prefers serving receptive Toronto audiences with buzzy films over feuding with rival festivals for world premieres and awards-season bragging rights. 

As part of its new five-year plan, TIFF is also aiming to generate more revenue from a film business moving to tablets and smartphones. The fest has already seen fewer stars and parties in recent years and a slimmed-down lineup, as Netflix and other digital platforms take a run at Hollywood and upend its traditional theatrical release cycles.

Against that backdrop, Bailey and the still-to-be-named co-head will chart TIFF's future after Handling's departure, with the new five-year plan in hand. “Cameron is a film industry veteran who has earned a reputation for discerning, expansive curation since joining TIFF as a programmer in 1990," Tory said. "Combined with his accomplishments as TIFF’s artistic director, we have full confidence in his vision for the direction of the organization."

Handling, in his own statement, offered his support for Bailey, long considered his anointed successor. "I have tremendous respect for Cameron and his longstanding contribution to TIFF’s success," Handling said. "His passion and vision for the future of the organization underlines his deep leadership skills. It gives me great comfort to know TIFF is in such good hands."