In August filmgoers’ thoughts turn to TIFF: the Toronto International Film Festival. Founded in 1976, TIFF isn’t just a local event anymore, having become one of the most important festivals in the world, if not the single biggest showcase for cinema anywhere.
TIFF has a big relationship with the industry, with the outside world, but first and foremost, TIFF belongs to Toronto and the audience. How did this happen?
While it’s a long complex story—how Toronto became such an important centre for film— and one that owes a great deal to the vision of those running TIFF, I want to acknowledge the godfather of film in the GTA. No I don’t mean a guy with cotton in his cheeks putting horsehead to pillow. Long before there was anything like TCM or Inside the Actors Studio—comparatively recent television programming dignifying the entertainment business and thereby ennobling the constituent arts of cinema and stage— Toronto had Elwy, as he was popularly known, Elwy Yost. Although he died recently, having left Saturday Night at the Movies (SNAM) in 1999, I believe he’s one of the keys to the Toronto film audience.
I watched SNAM last night on TVOntario: a local educational TV network. The program included
- Martin Scorsese’s 1993 adaptation of The Age of Innocence
- Oliver Parker’s 1999 version of An Ideal Husband
- A series of interviews in between, including Jackie Maxwell, Artistic Director of the Shaw Festival, encouraging us to notice issues pertaining to manners and morays, and in the process comparing the two films.
The program is no longer Yost’s (it’s now hosted by Thom Ernst) but still bears his stamp, as educational as it is appreciative. Yost had come to TVOntario in the 1970s, having earlier hosted another educational film series on CBC in the 60s called Passport to Adventure. Over the years Yost programmed literally thousands of films, while gently teaching us and influencing our taste.
Standing in line with TIFF patrons, one encounters enthusiasm side by side with genuine knowledge. While it’s undoubtedly true that Blue Jays fans are ignoramuses compared to the denizens of Fenway or Yankee Stadium, this is one of the most knowledgeable and appreciative film audiences anywhere. That’s why the industry comes here.
I’d like to think Elwy had something to do with it.