TIFF brings $189M into Toronto economy

The Toronto International Film Festival remains an important hub for making movie deals, even while it contributes an estimated $189 million to the local economy.

For filmmakers, it's also about finding a distributor and an audience

The producers of 12 Years a Slave are looking for a foreign distribution deal at TIFF, which is an important market for filmmakers launching new films. (TIFF)

The Toronto International Film Festival remains an important hub for making movie deals, even while it contributes an estimated $189 million to the local economy.

A study by TNS Canada Ltd. conducted on behalf of TIFF found the festival itself and year-round programming at the Bell Lightbox created 2,295 jobs and added an estimated $189 million to the economy in restaurant receipts, hotel bills and tourism revenue.

The festival gets money from federal, provincial and municipal governments, but argues it generated $58.2 million in tax revenue.

The 2012 festival attracted 27,434 out of town visitors to Toronto, including 4,200 film professionals. For filmmakers, the deal is the thing.

After a summer in which Hollywood squeezed as much cash as it could out of comic book adaptations and franchise remakes, TIFF gives exposure and a chance to network to makers of low-budget films and less popular stories.

Dede Gardner, president of Plan B Entertainment and producer of buzz film 12 Years a Slave, says she’ll be looking for foreign distribution during her days at the Toronto festival.

"Every movie wants to get here. It's a great launching pad. It's the beginning of the fall season. Also Toronto's a great democratizer, you know there is such a range of movies, you're in good company," she said in an interview with CBC’s Lang O’Leary Exchange.

Every film gets the same number of screenings and the same access to audiences, she says. 12 Years a Slave is one of TIFF's 366 feature-length and short films to screen in the 11-day festival.

Brad Pitt, also a star of 12 Years a Slave, is the man behind Plan B Entertainment and his name recognition guarantees attention for the film, but Gardner cautions that's no sure route to success.

The producers involved all want "to feel good about the movie artistically and make movies that have a long shelf life," she said, adding, "sometimes a movie we make won’t have any energy in the moment of release and catch on later and vice versa."

12 Years A Slave, which has a gala screening Friday, started with the producers seeking out Hunger director Steve McQueen and asking if they could collaborate on a project.

"He asked us, 'why do you think so few movies have ever been made about the institution of slavery, as opposed to singular events inside that era?'" she recalled.

That provocative question had them looking for a story that would explore slavery and cast light on the institution. They settled on the 1853 book based on the true story of Solomon Northup, a freeman from New York who is kidnapped and sold into the southern U.S.

It’s scarcely a popular subject in a Hollywood obsessed with blockbuster films, Gardner points out. She says making films is expensive, which is why dealmaking at places such as TIFF is so important.

"It's distribution that remains so challenging," she said. "That's widening obviously with the internet, but I don’t think it's organized yet anyway, so it's hard to say how it's going to grow and how elastic it's going to be."

The internet is providing many new outlets for films, such as Vimeo, which this year is offering to buy digital rights for first release for every TIFF film.  But the going rate Vimeo offers for exclusive rights for 30 days is $10,000 US, a drop in the bucket for films with multimillion dollar budgets. After that is recouped, Vimeo says it offers a share of proceeds.


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