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TIFF History

TIFF History

TIFF began in 1976 as the “Festival of Festivals", collecting the best films from other film festivals around the world and showing them to eager audiences in Toronto. That first year, 35,000 enthusiasts watched 127 films from 30 countries. By 2009, those numbers have grown to feature 336 films from 64 countries, enjoyed by 500,000 people.

The Festival of Festivals (renamed the Toronto International Film Festival in 1995) has introduced many of the world's great film artists to Toronto audiences. That first year, a spotlight on German cinema included films by Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Werner Herzog and Wim Wenders.

In the years that followed, many other artists have looked back on the Festival as the place where their films first reached a receptive audience and the foundations of their careers were built. These include: Paul Haggis, Jason Reitman, Michael Moore, David Cronenberg, and John Woo.

The secret of the Festival’s success is its unique combination of two parallel festivals: one for a large audience passionate about film and one for the world's press and industry. The Festival also manages to be the launch pad for both big Hollywood films and art house cinema from around the world.

TIFF has grown, steadily adding initiatives. TIFF Cinematheque (formerly Cinematheque Ontario) and the Film Reference Library opened in 1990. Sprockets Toronto International Film Festival for Children launched in 1998. Film Circuit began exhibiting independent and Canadian films in underserviced cities across Canada in 1994. TIFF has remained committed to educating and broadening audiences, adding to the cultural richness of Canada’s community. Along the way, TIFF has become one of the most important and respected film institutions in the world


TIFF Highlights


  • The 1st Festival of Festivals is held; founded by Bill Marshall, Henk Van der Kolk and Dusty Cohl


  • Festival hosts a seminal retrospective of Quebec cinema


  • Wayne Clarkson becomes Festival Director
  • Launch of the annual Symposium – Canada’s largest business conference for filmmakers


  • "The American Nightmare" retrospective on U.S. horror films organized by Robin Wood and Richard Lippe
  • Industry programme Trade Forum launched at Festival (until 1991)


  • Contemporary World Cinema programme created


  • Perspectives Canada created, confirming Festival's commitment to bringing Canadian films and filmmakers to a wider, international audience


  • Helga Stephenson named Festival Director, Piers Handling named   Programming Director


  • Midnight Madness programme created


  • TIFF assumes management of Gerald Pratley's Ontario Film Institute. The Institute's screening programme is expanded to become Cinematheque Ontario (now TIFF Cinematheque). Resource Centre becomes Film Reference Library.


  • The Strange Objects of David Cronenberg’s Desire, an exhibit of artifacts and design related to his films, is organized with the Film Reference Library and launched in Tokyo; exhibited at the ROM in Toronto and in Thessaloniki.


  • Piers Handling named Festival Director and CEO
  • Festival name is changed to current "Toronto International Film Festival"
  • The organization renamed itself the Toronto International Film Festival Group becoming the umbrella organization of the Festival


  • TIFF assumes management of Film Circuit


  • Piers Handling is bestowed the insignia of Chevalier des Arts et Lettres
  • Sprockets Toronto International Film Festival for Children is launched, headed up by Jane Schoettle


  • Talk Cinema (now Reel Talk), Sunday morning preview & discussion series, begins


  • TIFF commissions 10 celebrated filmmakers to make short films inspired by Festival
  • Pitch This! event for emerging filmmakers launched as part of Industry Programming at Festival
  • Film Circuit is recipient of the Peter F. Drucker Award for Canadian Nonprofit Innovation presented by the Peter F. Drucker Canadian Foundation
  • James Quandt, Senior Programmer for Cinematheque Ontario (now TIFF Cinematheque) given Special Citation from the National Society of Film Critics (USA) for outstanding work on Robert  Bresson retrospective and high standard of writing


  • Canada's Top Ten launched


  • Special Delivery is launched, reaching out to youth in under-served areas of the GTA who may not otherwise have access to the festival experience.


  • TIFF unveils plans for TIFF Bell Lightbox
  • Noah Cowan appointed as Co-Director of the Toronto International Film Festival


  • Piers Handling received the CEO of the year award from the Canadian Public Relations Society
  • Festival launches Talent Lab, a industry initiative for Canadian filmmakers
  • Sprockets Globetrotter Series is created
  • Student Film Showcase is established, a showcase of  diverse and exciting range of emerging student work


  • TIFF launches the industry initiatives office for Canadian filmmakers
  • Festival’s 30th anniversary


  • Sprockets celebrates 10th anniversary.


  • Construction officially began on TIFF Bell Lightbox
  • TIFF establishes Reel Comfort, reaching out to the underserved, disenfranchised community of acute care mentally ill patients of the Department of Psychiatry at Toronto General Hospital.


  • Cameron Bailey appointed Co-Director of the Toronto International Film Festival
  • Noah Cowan appointed as Artistic Director for TIFF Bell Lightbox.


  • The John VanDuzer Children’s Film Collection is launched providing teachers with the unique opportunity to rent and screen engaging, fun and educational films not otherwise available in Canada.
  • TIFF Cinematheque presents In the Realm of Oshima: The Films of Japanese Master Nagisa Oshima, the first major Oshima retrospective in North America in 20 years, tours key cultural institutions in a dozen cities including Walker Art Center (Minneapolis), Harvard Film Archive (Cambridge).
  • Michele Maheux appointed Executive Director and Chief Operating Officer (formally Director of Communications and Marketing, 1990-1998, and Managing Director, 1998-2008)


  • Film Circuit celebrates its 15th anniversary with TIFF
  • TIFFG is renamed TIFF as the umbrella organization
  • As part of the organization’s celebration of the City of Toronto’s 175th anniversary, TIFF published Toronto on Film


  • TIFF Cinematheque and the Film Reference Library celebrate 20th anniversary
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