TIFF – Shock and Awe – for the second time!

Where do I begin?

A good writer, and I am one of them, knows that often it is how you tell the story that makes the difference – not necessarily the story itself.

Should I start at the beginning?  Should I select a dramatic, confrontation that happened in the middle and start with that?  Should I start by giving you the end result (to date) and do flashbacks? What about real names?  Will that add to the drama?  Or maybe I should use pseudonyms to pique your curiosity?  Will trying to guess who is who add to your interest or eventually bore you?

Of course I have an agenda.  I want to shock you, anger you, provoke you to take action –action that means emails and telephone calls. But I don’t want to bolt the door closed so that it can never be opened in case your responses put enough pressure on the politicians (yes, here we go again – there is  no life without politics) to act.

At this point in the blog, I am stopping.  I have to think about what I am going to write.  And before you continue reading, go to my first blog on TIFF back in September 2012.  Boy what a difference 8 months can make!

I’m back!  It is the day after I wrote the above words.  Lawyers have had a look at this blog.  Yes, I can use real names because I have documentation and emails.  But – I am not going to…yet.  So this is the story:

Last September a couple of guys from our Saturday Breakfast Club were complaining about TIFF – the Toronto International Film Festival founded over twenty five years ago by a wonderful and loyal friend, the late Dusty Cohl.

In 2013, for the first time since 1899, Yom Kippur will fall on Sept 14.  The TIFF awards ceremony/gala is scheduled for that day.  Since the guys are film buffs, buyers of at least eighteen TIFF tickets each they don’t want to miss the awards.  Now my film prowess extends to James Bond movies – and the others much the same.  But it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that the awards ceremony, i.e. best picture, best actress, best director, are the climax and the raison d’être of any film festival – from Cannes to the Oscars. We all thought there would be no problem asking TIFF to switch the 2013 awards ceremony to any other day but Yom Kippur.

We were wrong. TIFF would stonewall for six months.

Gee, does anyone reading this blog think that the TIFF Awards ceremony would ever be held on Good Friday?

I was asked to help – I agreed – so it was time for me to learn about TIFF – who they are and what they are all about.

After two days of research, I was stunned at how stupid they all were to let anyone put a spotlight on themselves.  Just to show a few senior gentlemen that they could do whatever they wanted?  Whoever runs TIFF, and that includes their Board of Directors, should have thought twice about the taxpayers of Ontario, many of whom are Jewish, who have sat quietly by as three levels of government subsidized them to the tune of millions of dollars every year.

And more …It turned out that some TIFF board members were and still are board members of TIFF funding sources.  A definite NO-NO!

And more…TIFF created two entities, TIFF Inc. and TIFF Corp.   Hmm.  Were they set up to get around a regulation preventing the same organization from applying for consecutive grants?  That regulation is a protection for all charitable organizations so they can have access to limited government funds. It enables all of them to have an equal opportunity to apply for grants every year.  Another  NO-NO?

In November, 2012 e-mails were sent to leaders of the Jewish community as well as several politicians objecting to TIFF’s stonewalling, especially since they were asking for millions of taxpayer dollars in grants as well as a $1.5 million dollar realty tax exemption on their facility.  The TIFF Lighbox sits on land donated to them by the Reitman family.

And then we found out that in late October, CIJA, an organization that replaced Canadian Jewish Congress many years ago had quietly given their approval/acceptance of TIFF’s refusal to make any changes that would have allowed members of the Jewish community to attend. .

Our email to CIJA – copied to several community leaders:

How could you?  Who empowered CIJA to accept TIFF’s version of what was being asked of them months ago?  Why didn’t you ever bother finding out what the actual facts were? Why didn’t you ever ask anyone who might know? We will not stop until the last day – Sept 14, 2013. 

Shouldn’t we be a united community?  It is absolutely no effort for TIFF to switch the awards back one day – they knew about this l0 years ago – and they first heard from us back in September, 2012.  Do you really believe that they respect the Jewish community? Do you know that they are using you as their justification for stonewalling? Sha shtill as my Zaydie always told me.  What does keeping quiet accomplish in the face of disdain…and obvious anti-semitism?  Anyhow, the drama will continue – sad, sad, sad.

So we were facing an ugly reality – the Jewish community which had given millions to TIFF in donations along with its brightest minds way back when to create TIFF didn’t even merit a slight adjustment for Yom Kippur.

And there is also no doubt that if women were running this show, a compromise would have been worked out from day one.

Then, in February 2013, six months after we began, we finally got TIFF’S official response:

As always, the Toronto International Film Festival launch on the Thursday after Labour Day. This year that means our dates unfortunately overlap with both Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. With our position fixed in a crowded calendar of festivals regulated by the International Federation of Film Producers Associations (FIAPF), it’s not possible to shift the dates. As a result, we will do our best to schedule repeat screenings to accommodate festival goers who will be observing the Jewish High Holy Days.

Logistics” was their rationale along with a story about being regulated by FIAPF (Fédération Internationale des Associations de Producteurs de Films in Paris.  Our French connection in Lyon, France communicated directly with FIAPF who denied preventing TIFF from moving the awards ceremony one day, which is all we ever asked of them.  

It was interesting that the only initial offers of support came from the politicians, like Willowdale MP, C.S. Leung.  Let’s all remember him positively when it counts. And Frank DiGiorgio, and Mike Del Grande and Doug Ford.

My email to the Mayor:

TIFF, a 10 day film festival – is ranking itself on the same level as the Art Gallery and the Roy Thompson Hall as a justification for this handout.  Do you really think that analogy will work?  TIFF and the Art Gallery at the same level? After the laughs, do you really believe that the public would be supportive if they knew about this? TIFF getting millions of dollars that the province can’t afford to give to Seniors’ health care? Great optics!

Did City staff make sure that there were no conflicts between those asking for the money and those giving approval?  Any quid pro quo? TIFF Board members voting in places where they shouldn’t have been? And the Liberal lobbyist on this with a closet?


I then got several calls and emails telling me that there was an expectation that TIFF was going to make an adjustment out of respect for the Jewish community. So we backed off.  Six weeks later, this message was sent to me.

“Patti, I met with TIFF and as you indicated they professed that the dates were set by an international group and not under their control. They also minimized the awards ceremony stating that the ceremony will last less than 2 hours in midday and is usually attended by primarily the press”.


Oh, sure.  The awards are the culmination – I wonder if the winners would appreciate being dismissed as “minimal”.


My response to City Hall:


So the city recommended the realty tax exemption to the province last night.  More bs about FIAPF “not letting them make a change”.  The Mayor’s office just told me that TIFF ‘promised’ to make the awards ceremony a 2 hour media exercise – but it could still only happen on Yom Kippur – yah, for sure. And Santa Claus will be in Florida next Christmas.


I had believed the politicians – I had recommended that we back off – but they didn’t deliver.

It is interesting how much time has been wasted on this exercise.  Eight months of stonewalling – whining about a 10 day festival schedule – never acknowledging our request for a one day adjustment .

What a wake-up call that has been for some of us.

Buy TIFF tickets? 

Support TIFF fundraising events?

Pretend the Jewish community counts in any way to them other than as a money machine?

No more!

And this is my response to that ‘proud Jewish TIFF board member ‘ who sent me a poison pen email last month that he copied to others:

”You say that you will happily pass on the awards ceremony this year because you believe in TIFF and so you will be in Shul on Yom Kippur.  How courageous of you. Well, buddy, you won’t see me or any of my family and friends boarding the train with you.  Have a good ride”.


Next blog will be upbeat and proud about a group of terrific community leaders – men from the Beth Tzedec Men’s Club  – these ones are smart, committed and generous to their whole community – Jewish and non Jewish.

Hey, the band is starting to warm up! Soon it will be playing again!