Getting Ready to Turn on the Lightbox
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Getting Ready to Turn on the Lightbox

Yesterday, while diehard TIFF-goers were well into their second screenings, Torontoist was getting a preview of the future of the festival: the Bell Lightbox. Spanning the northwest corner of King and John, the enormous 175,000-square-foot space already feels like TIFF Central, despite being at present uniformly grey, dusty, and full of building materials. Artistic Director Noah Cowan, who has encyclopedic knowledge of seemingly every detail of the project, has been shuttling media through for the past few weeks, trying to promote fundraising efforts, which is paying off. After hearing what’s in store for the Lightbox, it’s no wonder benefactors are coming forward.

Noah Cowan, artistic director of Bell Lightbox.

There wouldn’t even be a Lightbox if not for a gift of $22 million from the Reitman family, which includes siblings Agi Mandel, Susan Michaels, and one of Toronto’s most celebrated director/producers, Ivan Reitman (Stripes, Ghostbusters, Old School, and many, many others). They gave this gift in honour of their parents who, despite enduring the hardships of emigrating to Canada from Slovakia, encouraged their children to pursue their passions. “They supported Ivan to be a filmmaker and a creative person,” Cowan told us. “To thank them for that confidence, they essentially made this donation for us.”
After ten years of planning, the project broke ground in early 2007 and is slated to be partially open by next year’s TIFF and fully functional by 2011. The structure is being built to be a world-class centre for our already world-class film festival (with features such as the Oliver and Bonacini formal restaurant and lounge, upscale market cafe, MTV-style interview space viewable from the street), but it’s the off-season, everyday plans that are the most inspiring.
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The third floor houses the learning annex for young (elementary and secondary school-age) aspiring filmmakers, which will have facilities most schools couldn’t even dream of. A workshop and production studio with retractable, tiered seating will house an actual projection booth and advanced post-production equipment. “This is the hands-on spot for people, especially young people, to learn about filmmaking,” Cowan explained. “Green-screen anchors line the wall so you can actually engage in that kind of work. Then go upstairs, get it finished, and have an object you can take home on your Blackberry to mom.”
Cowan also hopes the Lightbox will partner with post-secondary institutions to benefit their film and media studies students. “We’re in conversation with six principal colleges and universities in the Toronto area…trying to figure out a program that can get them in at least one day a week in the academic year.” With this in mind, they are including a “higher-learning” cinema that resembles a luxurious seminar room.
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In between lectures and workshops, students can use the fourth-floor “student scholar centre,” which comprises a film reference library, reading room, study carrels, stacks, and collections showcasing Canadian filmmakers’ props, storyboards, and archival digital collections.
In part due to its affiliation with Bell, the Lightbox prides itself on its technical capabilities. Students and patrons alike will enjoy Wi-Fi access across the entire facility as well as copious camera and data points in the actual cinemas for shooting video, live-blogging, or even gaming. Why gaming? “A lot of people approach film and their love of film in different ways, Cowan told us. “Some people love it for entertainment; some people love it as an art form. A lot of people love it as technology as well, so love talking about the endless ways you can edit things, colour-correct, broadcast, project…we recognize film has extensions. We’re going to be doing a lot of stuff around cinema-based art forms that aren’t necessarily cinema, like gaming, advertising, and television that have a cinematic flavour, but actually exist in a separate universe.”
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While the structure is now soundly in place, the Lightbox is far from having the cosmetic flourishes that will bring it to life. But, if you’d like to have a look, Cowan hinted they might have public access available for this year’s Nuit Blanche.
All photos by Nick Kozak/Torontoist.