2011 Hero: TIFF Bell Lighbox
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2011 Hero: TIFF Bell Lighbox

Nominated for: growing not just in size but in depth.

Torontoist is ending the year by naming our Heroes and Villains—the very best and very worst people, places, things, and ideas that have had an influence on the city over the past twelve months. From December 12–23, the candidates for Mightiest and Meanest—and new this year, a reader’s write-in option! From December 26–29 you’ll be able to vote for Toronto’s Superhero and Supervillain of the year, and we’ll reveal the results December 30.

It’s easy to make fun of the TIFF Bell Lightbox. They opened to the world with an exhibition on Tim Burton (don’t forget your stripes!), following it up with one on Fellini and the paparazzi that felt like pandering to the hottest SEO term: Lady Gaga. Then, of course, there is Grace Kelly’s Oscar, which during the festival became seared on the inside of our eyelids in that cursive script, pre-film bumper. Yet, these criticisms are about as deep as mocking the Lightbox’s perpetually scuffed purple walls.

Let’s not forget that the programmers at the TBLB (what’s an institution until it has an abbreviation?) chose to kick off their New Auteur Series with a retrospective on Denis Côté, arguably one of Canada’s best talents, who gets far too little attention in his native country. Moreover this was on the heels of Incendies‘ Oscar nomination, when programming works by Denis Villeneuve would have been the hot—if you can ever really say that about Canadian film, sadly—thing to do.

Heck, even while TIFF was pushing Incendies relentlessly, they still kept the poster for the film signed by Villeneuve in the lobby which read: “Denis Côté thinks that cinema is worth more than what I’m trying to do. He’s right. I’ll do better next time. That’s what art is about.” (We’re not sure about the latter point but the former certainly stands.)

Following this there was the Kelly Reichardt retrospective, and earlier in the year there were Ousman Sembène’s films at the Cinematheque, not to mention running all five hours and eighteen minutes of Olivier Assayas’ Carlos and the current Roman Polanski retrospective (wherein Toronto will finally get to see Carnage). For all the tchotchkes in the gift shop, they also sell Film Comment, Cinema Scope, and Vivian Sobchack’s books. Plus, let’s not forget: the concession stands offer Milk Duds.

Beyond the silver screen the Lightbox also hosts the Toronto Film Seminars and has one of the most in-depth film reference libraries in Canada—all of which are free to the public. While there are grumblings about the Back to the ’80s programming pandering to Gen Y (and more troublingly stepping on the toes of Toronto’s rep cinemas) the Lightbox is proving it brings not just some esoteric idea of intellectual cachet to Toronto, but great films, directors, and discussion. Those Bell purple walls are only the surface, after all, and the Lightbox is working on creating more depth than that.