As the Toronto International Film Festival prepares to kick off Thursday, it’s doing so in a changed landscape — one organizers have responded to with a few powerful additions to the usual mix of glitz and glam.
With initiatives including the Share Her Journey women’s rally, a newly created hotline and an emphasis on its code of conduct, TIFF is making it clear it’s an inclusive and safe space after the tide of sexual misconduct allegations stemming from the Harvey Weinstein scandal last fall.
“We’re making sure that everyone who’s taking part in the festival understands that there’s a standard of behaviour, that harassment and abuse won’t be tolerated and that there are repercussions for that,” says Cameron Bailey, artistic director of TIFF.
“You’re on our ground and there’s zero tolerance,” adds Piers Handling, director and CEO of TIFF.
“You will not be welcomed back if you violate any of these rules.”
This is the first TIFF since the Weinstein scandal last October led to a steady stream of allegations involving many others in the industry and the establishment of the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements to end abuse.
Weinstein has been a fixture at TIFF in the past, using it for the world premiere of films that went on to Oscar glory, including “The King’s Speech,” “The Imitation Game” and “Lion.”
Two misconduct accusations against him, from actresses Mira Sorvino and Montreal’s Erika Rosenbaum, allegedly took place in Toronto hotel rooms during past TIFFs.
TIFF has always had a zero-tolerance harassment policy and a code of conduct, but this year those elements will be more visible through signage around the festival, says Handling. All delegates must also agree to the code of conduct in their accreditation forms, and the press package includes a reminder of it.
“For the first time we actually have a hotline, so if anybody feels that they’ve been harassed and they don’t feel they can approach us, they can go to a third party,” he adds.
The hotline — 1-833-265-9835 — allows callers to confidentially report wrongdoing or unethical conduct.
Handling notes they’ve taken badges away from delegates in the past but that was “more for bad behaviour.”
Perhaps the biggest symbol of solidarity at this year’s festival will be seen on Saturday with the rally by TIFF’s Share Her Journey, a five-year commitment to support women in the industry.
Speakers at the event will include Dr. Stacy L. Smith, founder and director of the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, Oscar-winning actress Geena Davis, and Canadian star Mia Kirshner, who co-founded the #AfterMeToo movement.
“I think that’s a great way to have a visual of women supporting each other and standing up for what they believe in and standing up against any harassment or any roadblocks in the industry that we have,” says Canadian writer-director Jasmin Mozaffari, who is at the festival this year with “Firecrackers.”
Meanwhile, at a pre-rally breakfast, Bailey will pledge TIFF’s commitment to the 5050×2020 initiative that supports gender parity and inclusion in film festivals.
Such initiatives can have a big impact, say those in the industry.
“I think the most important message that kind of stuff sends is that there are groups now behind this new standard that we all have, which is that kind of Harvey Weinstein-esque behaviour is not OK and if you are going to risk acting like that, then it’s no longer one or two fringe, really brave women who are going to come out and say something — it’s a streetful of women,” adds Nikki Saltz, winner of TIFF’s inaugural 2018 Micki Moore Residency for female screenwriters.
This year TIFF has also increased the diversity of its press corps by about 20 per cent, adding up to 200 new journalists from under-represented groups. Inclusion and diversity will also be among the topics TIFF on panels at the TIFF Industry Conference.
Handling notes TIFF has embraced diversity and supported women’s cinema from the very beginning, through programming, seminars, panels and various programs.
This year’s overall TIFF lineup has 34 per cent films by women, up from 33 per cent last year.
“We’d like it to get to 50 per cent but I think the industry has to actually itself step to the plate,” says Handling.
“We can only go so far. More women have to be behind the camera directing films, and then we’ll show them.”