TIFF Bell Lightbox Artistic Director Noah Cowan

15 Mar

Lunch with Mary 051

Date of lunch:
Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The company:
Noah Cowan is the artistic director of TIFF Bell Lightbox, the incredible new facility at King and John in downtown Toronto. He drives the curatorial vision for the year-round programming. Noah has been a part of TIFF for a long time with his first venture being curator of the Midnight Madness program at the festival in 1989 – a program I know has always been popular with my friends. Noah also had some incredible ventures outside of TIFF, including launching Cowboy Pictures, a pioneering distributor devoted to the art of cinema, in 1993 and founding, in 2002, the Global Film Initiative in New York City, a not-for-profit organization devoted to worldwide understanding through film. He returned to TIFF in 2003 as the co-director of the Toronto International Film Festival until January 2008, when he took over his current role.

The food:
We ate at Le Saint Tropez on King Street West. It’s a very cute French bistro and since we ate at 1:30 we pretty much had the whole place to ourselves. Noah had the Quiche Lorraine with side salad and frites. I had the Ratatouille Provençal. My meal was really tasty and had a lot of cheese, which I loved! Noah had a ginger ale and I drank water. After our meal, Noah had a tea and I had a coffee. Total bill was $33 with tax.

Usually when I describe a meal, I end with the price. But this meal had a very traumatic end for me. I forgot my wallet?!?!? It was terrible (and extremely unusual for me). I had taken out my wallet at work to contact my bank and forgot to put it back in my purse. When I realized, I think my face went white. I thought I might cry and I felt very sick to my stomach. I invited someone out for lunch and then couldn’t cover the bill. Awful. Noah was incredibly gracious about it and covered the cost of the lunch. My blog is all about free lunches and open minds – it’s what I do. So I have put a check in the mail to pay him back.

The lunch lesson:
Noah talked about some of the programs they have at TIFF Bell Lightbox aimed at young people – high school and college/university students. Noah wants TIFF Bell Lightbox to be a comfortable place for young people to come, learn and appreciate art and culture. We talked about how museums are really appealing to kids and then an interest that is picked back up later, perhaps in late-twenties, early thirties. But there is a good 10-15 year chunk of time when young people aren’t particularly interested in going to a museum. TIFF Bell Lightbox is the perfect solution. It’s ever evolving and has art from the past and present. It’s a great place to be absorbed in culture. Noah told me that when Tim Burton was in town for his exhibition, he took time to meet with young people and even asked them to bring in their animation projects, which he viewed and provided feedback. Can you imagine being a teenager who is passionate about animation and filmmaking and get advice from Tim Burton? It’s so incredible. And Noah said that Tim Burton was really in his element with the young people and this type of experience is exactly what he wants TIFF Bell Lightbox to be.

The lunch:
The TIFF Bell Lightbox is so new, I haven’t had the chance to discover everything that it entails so it was great to get the chance to hear from the artistic director himself.

The TIFF Bell Lightbox is a five-storey complex with a public atrium, five public cinemas, two galleries, three learning studios, a centre for students and scholars, the O&B Canteen, Luma Restaurant and a lounge. And there really is something for everyone and I think that’s what I really liked the most when Noah was explaining it all to me. One program that I didn’t know about and now I am really excited to take advantage of is the “Back to the ‘80’s” film series. It started February 5 and continues until April 2 and shows ‘80s favorites on the big screen, like Back to the Future, Gremlins, The Goonies and The Princess Bride. Amazing!

Given that I just took a paleontologist out to lunch, who was basically living out his childhood dream, I had to ask Noah if it was the same for him. He said he has always loved movies and if his childhood self saw him now, he would think it was pretty cool. Noah, it seems, has always worked in the film industry somehow, even being a movie critic for Eye Weekly. So I had to find out his favourite movie. He named two. He said that he can judge people based on their thoughts on these two films so it was very embarrassing for me to have not seen either of them. Well, I am definitely going to check them out now. They are The Towering Inferno and The Palm Beach Story. My favourite movie is Rushmore and I totally judge people by whether they think it’s funny or not. (Noah thinks it’s very funny.)

We also chatted on what, or more precisely who, drives people to check out movies. Is it still the movie star? Or is it more the director? Noah spoke of the “big five” – writer, director, producer, editor and cinematographer – as the people that really shape a movie. The actors come in later in the process. He also said how actors are unlikely to always consistently be in stellar movies, whereas if there is a director you really enjoy, it’s likely you will enjoy all of their films. Something to think about when you’re trying to decide what movie to check out this weekend.

It’s hard not to get excited about movies when you talk to Noah and, something I really appreciate, is the excitement about Canadian cinema that he has. At the end of the lunch, Noah brought me to check out the Mary Pickford exhibit, Canada’s own movie star. It’s the inaugural exhibition of TIFF’s new Canadian Film Gallery. It has over 1,900 items from photographs to posters to pillowcases and Mary Pickford make up compacts, all original and incredibly, all part of one man, Rob Brooks’, private collection. This was my first exploration into the TIFF Bell Lightbox space and it was so cool – so much history and so HUGE – and everything is open to the public.

I used to work at a restaurant across from the TIFF Bell Lightbox and at that time, it was a parking lot. Unlike a lot of other Torontonians, I am a big fan of a lot of the downtown condo builds because I like the urban density and having such a livable and lively downtown. But I did love to see that this parking lot was made into a cultural hub, a place for all of Toronto to enjoy. You should all check it out!

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2 Responses to “TIFF Bell Lightbox Artistic Director Noah Cowan”

  1. Michael March 15, 2011 at 10:36 pm #

    Really liked this one, Mary.

  2. Bowserings March 17, 2011 at 11:32 am #

    Very cool idea; good on Toronto for putting something like this up! That Tim Burton story is a great testament to the relevance of projects like this. All naysayers of Canadian film need to realize the impact that this has on kids.

    Thanks for sharing this Mary!

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