TIFF Bell Lightbox – Six Months Later

Outside of the Bell Lightbox on it’s opening day during
the 2010 Toronto Film Festival.

Original Article: Toronto Star

There was an interesting article in today’s Toronto Star in which Peter Howell reflects on the success of the TIFF Bell Lightbox during its first six months of operation.

Based on the article, the biggest criticism about the Bell Lightbox is that A) only half of 100 people surveyed knew of its existence and B) not many people are aware the building shows movies, with many screenings being near-empty.

I have been a regular patron at the Bell Lightbox since it opened during the Toronto International Film Festival last September.  I made sure to see my first film at the Lightbox during the festival and I went on to see about 30 films so far in the six months that followed and that number is sure to more than double before the next film festival in September.

I do admit that I first-hand experienced the lack of attendance at screenings.  I believe the lowest-attended film I went to was The People vs. George Lucas, which only had about 5 people in an 80 seat theatre.  Based on my experience, the films with better attendance were either evening shows and/or Cinematheque screenings, which often only have one or two screenings, as opposed to regular releases, which have up to four screenings daily.

Another issue mentioned in the article was the somewhat confusing film schedule, which is definitely something I can sympathize with.  I think part of the problem is that there are actually two film schedules.  First, there is the Cinematheque schedule, which is preset and all the screening times can be found in the programme guide, which is released every three months.  However, there is also the daily schedule for the regular releases, which can only be found going to the Lightbox and looking at one of the “Now Playing” screens or by navigating the maze of a website (or clicking here).

There is also the issue about the mainstream crowd vs. the cinephile crowd.  According to the article, there has been some suggestions to show some more mainstream films at the Lightbox and even feature some more traditional movie-theatre signage.   I consider myself to be both a mainstream movie fan and a serious cinephile and I have to say that, even though it may generate more revenue for TIFF, I don’t really see the Bell Lightbox as a place for mainstream films, unless they are part of a retrospective.

I like thinking about the Bell Lightbox as more of a museum that shows films, as opposed to a traditional movie theatre.  Instead of traditionally galleries, the exhibits are the films themselves.  Of course, the Bell Lightbox also has two traditional galleries and I quite enjoyed the Tim Burton exhibition (and the film retrospective which accompanied it).

I think a successful experiment that successfully combined cinephiles with the mainstream audience was the “Back to the 80s” series that ran on Saturday afternoons during February and March.  The series showed classic films such as The Goonies, The Princess Bride, and Back to the Future and nearly every screening I went to in that series was full.  I look forward to similar series showing up at the Bell Lightbox in the future.

I think that even though the general public is not yet fully aware of it, I think that the Bell Lightbox is a great home for cinephiles and I look forward to continue seeing many great films at the venue.

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Sean Kelly Author

Sean Patrick Kelly is a self-described über-geek, who has been an avid film lover for all his life. He graduated from York University in 2010 with an honours B.A. in Cinema and Media Studies and he likes to believe he knows what he’s talking about when he writes about film (despite occasionally going on pointless rants).