Friday, September 14, 2012

TIFF Bell Lightbox

So I am currently waiting in the "rush" line to get into the film Leviathan, meaning if this post ends abruptly it is likely because they are either are letting me into the screening or informing me that I wasted my last hour waiting in line. I am writing this from the atrium of the TIFF Bell Lightbox building. For those who have not been to TIFF before, this is the festival's headquarters, opened in 2010, having been built on land donated by filmmakers and father-and-son Ivan Reitman and Jason Reitman

TIFF is housed in the first five floors of the building, which includes room for six theaters (five open to the public) and all the festival's offices. Rising high above the TIFF facilities is the Bell Lightbox tower, some 46 stories tall. The building itself is thoroughly modern in style, featuring lots of large open spaces and glass, which fits with TIFF's self designate motto of being the "friendly festival." We were lucky enough to go on a tour of the facilities yesterday, and our tour guide made certain to promote a view of the festival as being more accessible and open than other similarly-sized festivals, perhaps most notably Cannes. This view of the festival is reinforced by a community-oriented feel to the entire festival, with volunteers seemingly on every street corner of the city, ready to answer any questions. An oft-repeated advertisement before screenings promotes TIFF's openness to new filmmakers by stating, "You don't have to have a rich uncle in the business."

Perhaps the most interesting counterpoint to this image is the "master control room." Hovering above the atrium in a conspicuous red box (the rest of the atrium is all white), the control room is where every single screen in the building is controlled. This means that not only can they control the screens in each of the six theaters here, but also every television screen scattered throughout the building, of which there are many (most show the TIFF schedule or trailers for upcoming films). The control room also can look at the feed from every security camera in the building. Part projection booth, part security room, the whole thing has a "very 1984-type of feel," as even our tour guide admitted.

What is most interesting to me though is that this room is not hidden away, but rather is remarkably prominent. In addition to the red color scheme on the outside of it that makes it stand out, the side of the control room facing out towards the main atrium is full-length glass, meaning it is easy to see right into the room. The fact that you can see right into it also means there is an odd feeling of watching people watching you. As my colleague Dimitri Pavlounis noted, the whole thing is reminiscent of Foucault's concept of the panopticon on any number of levels. What is most interesting to me though is that TIFF doesn't hide their Big Brotheresque control room; rather, they highlight it and make it obvious. The cynic's view for why this is would likely be that one of the ways TIFF regulates audiences and anyone stepping foot in their building is by making it obvious that everyone, everywhere, is being watched. I might take the more charitable view though in that this type of control room is likely necessary at any festival of this size, and so TIFF is simply trying to be open about how things are run here in the spirit of being more of a "friendly festival." I would be curious to hear about what other people think though. In the meanwhile, it is time for me to either get into my screening or not, so fingers crossed!

1 comment:

  1. Fascinating! I've never set foot in this building, but I'm going to be sure to make a trip next time I'm back in Toronto. This question of the red control room is obviously right up my alley. And since you asked... I feel like it speaks to this mode of accessibility that TIFF is trying to produce by making everyone feel like an industry insider. Highlighting the visibility of the the control booth as part of the building's design seems to me like a way to invite people inside while really keeping them out, producing an illusion of accessibility where there is none and making power seem evenly distributed when it's not. I think this works on a larger scale at the festival. People pay to attend in order to get exclusive access to films and celebrities (in the case of the more popular, Hollywood festival content) or, perhaps, for the exclusivity of a particular kind of cultural experience. But this is a highly controlled experience--just look at that fantastic image you captured, with the organized crowd and rows of barriers. Like the big, red, master control room, this experience of insider access is a bit illusory... look but don't touch!