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Cameron Bailey first saw the recent Oscar-winner Precious at its world premiere at the Sundance Festival in January 2009.
“I was blown away by the film,” says Bailey, the African-Canadian co-director of the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF).
Bailey had shown a previous film by the movie’s African-American director Lee Daniels at the Toronto festival. In part due to their shared cultural experience, the two bonded and they stayed in touch, allowing Bailey to connect with the celebrated director at the premiere.
“I walked right up to him and told him I loved it.”
This connection was just the beginning. Bailey’s instincts about the film were right on. Before long he was negotiating with Hollywood studios to bring Precious to Toronto as a gala performance. But showcasing an African-American filmmaker would be a first. And including a film this tough and disturbing would require strong powers of persuasion. As TIFF’s most prestigious offering, galas are considered prime sponsorship opportunities not generally reserved for risky or edgy fare.
“I was in a position to put this forward as a good idea but I had to convince people it would work,” he says.
Bailey succeeded and the gala presentation involved an appearance by entertainment’s “head of state” Oprah Winfrey, along with Mariah Carey and other luminaries from Hollywood’s black elite. These red carpet promotions led to an unprecedented showing from Toronto’s black community.
“A word of mouth campaign swept the city. They bought tickets, they waited outside, they screamed when everyone arrived. I had never seen Roy Thomson Hall with that kind of energy before.”
When the show was over and everyone had left the theatre, the chair of TIFF’s board of directors told Bailey he had never seen anything like this before at the Festival. According to Bailey, “we would never have played it this big if I hadn’t been in this position.”
Cameron Bailey was appointed co-director at TIFF in January, 2008 after 12 years as a programmer where he founded the Planet Africa section and headed the Perspective Canada Series. He is an accomplished writer, print and broadcast journalist and has been a guest curator for festivals around the world.