Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The World’s Juiciest Film Festival


Most of you probably know Bill Marshall as the founder of the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), the largest public film festival in the world. But he was and is so much more than that.

I was fortunate enough to have a film in the first festival in 1976 and a couple of years later was hired by Bill with three other writers to script a mini-series he was doing with the CBC.

Bill had become an established producer by then, with successful Canadian features like “Outrageous”, “Felicity” and “Wild Horse Hank” under his belt. He was an outgoing, ebullient and tenacious guy who never took “No” for an answer and simply went out and “got shit done”.

For reasons to complicated to explain, the proposed mini-series eventually collapsed under a combination of broadcaster, studio and guild acrimony and I headed off to Hollywood to seek my fortune there.

Barely a week later, at my first ever glittering party in the Hollywood hills, I flopped down on a couch with a glass of wine and found myself almost in the lap of Bill Marshall, who said…

“Geez, Henshaw! We can’t be seen together. We’re suing each other.” At which point we both cracked up.

The great thing about Bill in those days was he was exactly the sort of character the Canadian film industry desperately needed. A guy who understood how things needed to be seen to be done in an overly cautious and closely regulated nation –- and yet knew how the real world worked so they could actually get done.

He was one of my producer mentors long before I’d ever contemplated producing anything and he not only taught me a ton, but contributed to some of the defining moments of my life.

Much has been written about the earth-shaking argument he got into with Mordecai Richler on a TIFF panel about Canadian culture. The press, as usual, mostly took Richler’s side in reporting it. But everybody who was in that room, including me, knew that Bill had won and a lot of the ugly truths about how culture is made and supported in this country were laid bare.

Bill went on to lead TIFF to greater heights than its humble beginnings predicted and he had a successful producing career with more than 20 feature films to his credit.

And now he’s doing something else that’s special.

The Niagara Integrated Film Festival (NIFF).

Niff launches this June in Ontario’s lush wine country along the Niagara escarpment, combining good films with good wine and good food.

But instead of hunkering down in the local multiplex with a box of popcorn, NIFF patrons will attend screenings at local wineries, accompanied by the product of local grapes and locally sourced food prepared by renowned chefs.

In a way, it’s all about making film integral to the life of the country instead of putting it behind a velvet rope.

Among the films confirmed so far are the Russell Crowe fronted documentary on the wine industry “Red Obsession” and the acclaimed “More Than Honey” .

There will also be a retrospective of newly restored silent films starring Canada’s first movie star and America’s sweetheart Mary Pickford, supported musically by a live orchestra.

There will be a special program of “unusual” fare selected by TIFF’s inimitable “Midnight Madness” programmer Colin Geddes. And a program of short films direct from their Cannes Festival screenings will be supplied by Cannes programmer Danny Lennon.

On top of that, if you’re an aspiring filmmaker with a 1-5 minute film shot on a mobile device and related to the subject of water –- there’s a contest you can enter.

To kickstart all this, Bill and his partners have launched a campaign on Indie-go-go to raise the money that will get them matching funds to bring NIFF to life. And the perks are great!

For as little as $9 you can buy a ticket to one of the festival films.

For $250, you can sit down and have a beer with Bill, something everybody who claims to love Canadian film should do at least once in their life.

And for $500 upward you can purchase various versions of the all-access passes that originally allowed TIFF to achieve its special place in the hearts of Torontonians.

You can find out more about NIFF, its films, vineyard venues and more here.

Please show your support and give back to a great man who has already given the Canadian film industry so much.

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