A view of the Lightbox’s main control centre (think HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey, except benign) as seen from the exhibition floor.
It’s been in the planning stages for a decade (and under construction for what seems like even longer), but the TIFF Bell Lightbox at King and John is set to open its doors to the public, for real, on September 12, smack in the middle of the thirty-fifth annual Toronto International Film Festival. As the new headquarters for TIFF, whose various operations are now divided between Jackman Hall, 2 Carlton Street, and various screening spaces throughout the city, expectations for the space have been running high. More than just an office building with a bunch of theatres, the Lightbox has promised to serve as a site for education about visual culture, a gallery space, and, more generally, a shining beacon of Toronto’s world class film culture. Lofty goals all!
But if today’s behind-the-scenes media tour at the Lightbox is any indication, the venue is well on its way to establishing a name for itself as the year-round locus of cinema in Toronto. It’s still very much under construction, but it’s becoming easier to conceive of the Lightbox as a unified space, and not just a bunch of scaffolding, concrete, and puffed-up press release rhetoric.
From the entrance off of King Street, the main floor of the Lightbox promises to be plenty impressive. A huge “red carpet zone” designed for film festival premieres that, as Lightbox artistic director and tour leader Noah Cowan said, provides the vestibule with a “sense of occasion,” takes up most of the main entrance area, flanked by a brasserie and a TIFF gift shop selling film-related books, DVDs, and TIFF-related merch (“Not unlike a gift store in a museum,” says Cowan). The entire entrance, which also houses a box office and customer service area, is wired with closed-circuit cameras, allowing lectures, screenings, and films themselves to be projected throughout.
The Lightbox, in all its ultra-clean, hyper-modern glory.
To the west of the main entrance is a gallery space, which Cowan describes as “the space we’re most excited about and challenged by.” The aim here is to integrate a traditional art or museum gallery with film culture, whether through displaying experimental films (like those you might find in the Wavelengths series at TIFF) as well as artifacts having to do with cinema (screenplays, props, that kind of thing). The impressive track lighting rig alone suggests the limitless possibilities of the space. And the polished poured concrete means you can even project on the floors.
Up on the second floor are the Lightbox’s main attractions: its main cinemas. The so-called “exhibition floor” houses Cinemas 1 (seating approximately 540 people), 2 (seating around 350), and 3 (which fits about 250), as well as concession stands that will tailor their offerings for certain screening situations. (That way nobody is rudely unwrapping individual wine gums while you’re trying to focus on the new Apichatpong Weerasethakul film.) The cinemas will open as real-deal movie theatres the Thursday following this year’s festival, and boast both digital and film projection capabilities (except for Cinema 5, which is strictly digital). Cinema 1 will also serve as the only 70 mm screening facility in Canada, so get ready for potential screenings of Around the World in 80 Days, Ice Station Zebra, and Baraka. In addition to the main cinemas, you’ll also find the Blackberry Lounge (a cafe during the day and bar at night) and a restaurant, perfect for pre- and post-film mingling.
The jewel in the Lightbox’s crown: the 549-seat Cinema 1.
The Lightbox’s third floor is called the “learning floor.” There you’ll find the smaller cinemas—Cinema 4 holds about 150 patrons, while around 80 can fit in Cinema 5—as well as the education facilities. Consolidating a bunch of spaces around town, these facilities will house seminars for anyone interested in learning the hands-on aspects of filmmaking. There are also plans to open these spaces to members of undergraduate and graduate film and media programs around town, giving them a chance to confer with visiting filmmakers and network with film buffs and scholars from outside their own institutions. These learning spaces will also be open to Canadian filmmakers for the purposes of casting, table reads, and other production activities.
The fourth floor of Lightbox will house the Canadian Film Gallery—an exhibition of Canadian film ephemera slated to mark its grand opening in late 2010 or early 2011 with a display dedicated to Mary Pickford—as well as part of the Film Reference Library, currently located at 2 Carlton Street.
All-in-all, the Lightbox is making good on its promise to showcase not only the considerable razzle-dazzle of TIFF’s annual festival, but also to offer educational and year-round screening opportunities for Toronto’s many hardened cineastes. Of course, how the Lightbox develops after it opens on September 12 remains to be seen, but as of now, there’s good reason to get excited.
Photos courtesy of TIFF.