Cameron Bailey isn’t bound by borders. As the artistic director of the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) – one of the most influential events in the movie industry – Bailey is constantly crisscrossing the globe to seek out movies that unearth diverse cultures. He chatted with us about the ever-changing needs of today’s movie audiences, TIFF’s lofty evolution, and his personal connections to travel.
How has TIFF changed over the past decade or so?
We’ve really evolved with our audience. Ten years ago, they weren’t watching episodic television with the same enthusiasm that they’re watching it now. By including films made by Netflix – and others like them – in TIFF’s lineup, we’ve demonstrated that [we are] part of the future. We now have an attraction like the Bell Lightbox. It is a place that film lovers can go to every day of the year. We’ve got screenings in five cinemas, a cultural center dedicated to film, two restaurants, gallery spaces and learning studios. Notable actors and directors frequently come here to talk about their work.
You were responsible for bringing Oscar-nominated and -winning films such as Moonlight, Dunkirk and Slumdog Millionaire to TIFF. What makes you champion one movie over another?
It begins with a feeling in my gut. There’s an emotional response we have to movies that we should always pay attention to and protect. When a movie shocks you, makes you cry, makes you feel something deeply…that tells you that it probably has that impact on other people as well. I remember when I first watched Slumdog Millionaire in a screening room in London. That was a film that had a very uncertain future at that point. I responded in a visceral way to it and brought it to the festival. It won our audience prize and went on to win the Best Picture Academy Award. The storytelling was so powerful and I was moved by these characters that I’d never seen before. I want people to walk out of the theater feeling thoroughly transformed or feeling that they’ve learned something about the world, or that they feel a sense of their own place in the world in a stronger way.
Toronto is prominent in Oscar-nominated and -winning films such as The Shape of Water, The Room, Spotlight and Brooklyn. Can location be treated as a character in a script?
Absolutely. Some of the greatest films give you such a strong sense of their locations. There’s Alfred Hitchcock shooting Vertigo in San Francisco and Martin Scorsese’s body of work in New York – Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, films like that. You feel like you’re in New York City with those movies. Wong Kar-wai’s Hong Kong is so evocative. You feel like you’re not just watching and listening to the film but you’re smelling the scents of the place.
Fairmont has a long history with film. Fairmont Royal York has been a sponsor of TIFF for almost a decade and is among Toronto’s top filming locations. Breakfast at Tiffany’s was filmed at The Plaza, and Shanghai Triad was shot at Fairmont Peace Hotel in Shanghai, to name a few. More recently, American Hustle was filmed at Fairmont Copley Plaza, Boston – in some scenes, suspense builds up right in the lobby. What makes a property ideal for a dramatic feature film?
The great thing about Fairmont Hotels is that they have such history attached to them. They’re often among the most famous buildings in their neighborhood and they all feel like they arise or spring from their environment. When it comes to hotels on the big screen, they must have an atmosphere that can adapt easily.
Starring alongside Gong Li (far left) in Zhang Yimou’s Shanghai Triad, Fairmont Peace Hotel in Shanghai proved to be the perfect setting for one of the most famous Chinese movies ever made. The film went on to receive an Oscar nomination for Best Cinematography at the 1996 Academy Awards.
What would you say is one of your all-time favorite lines of dialogue in a film?
Jerry Maguire has very quotable lines: “You had me at hello” and “You complete me.” Those lines, taken out of context, can seem really sappy, yet they are very well written.
What are some examples of how films have been able to change the world?
The most obvious current example is Black Panther. It’s a film that has already earned over one billion dollars. It’s set in a fictional African country that was never colonized and has the most advanced science and technology in the world. It goes against so much of how Africa is often stereotyped as being behind when it comes to advancement. The idea of watching a movie where you can enter that world in which Africans are the leaders in technology is transformative.
What movie are you interested in seeing next?
It is called Hereditary and it screened at the SXSW festival. It’s a genre film. It sounds very intriguing and I’m looking forward to seeing it.
What is it about traveling that enhances your job so much?
That time in a hotel room – that’s critical time for me. I often come up with my most useful ideas when I’m in that in-between space and I’m not plugged in to my regular work or life. That’s where I germinate ideas. Travel is also the immersion in a culture that’s not your own. You realize there are so many different ways to live your life and organize a society. I have an eight-year-old son and I’m trying to show that to him.
When you enter your hotel room after checking in, what is the first thing you do?
I take my shoes off and set the temperature. I also like to have a nice, comfortable robe on.
Is there a signature cocktail or drink you always look for on a hotel bar menu?
I’m going to be true to my Barbadian heritage and say if there’s a very good aged rum at a hotel bar, I’m a happy man.