TIFF Bell Lightbox: A Hope For Cinema, and Why You Should Go!

Written By: Peter Widdrington

The Lightbox aglow at night

You’re walking down King on a beautiful August day. The rush hour traffic reflects the afternoon sun directly into your sight, forcing you to look down at the Canadian walk of fame as you continue west.  Norman Jewison, Jim Carrey, James Cameron — names of people to look up to in life as sources of inspiration.  Ahead, a long line emerges from a tall glass building onto the sidewalk.  You get to the back of the line and slowly wait to get your tickets, at the time having no idea how important those tickets would be; having no idea how these tickets could change your life.  This was my experience the very first time that I participated in the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), and my unforgettable introduction to the TIFF Bell Lightbox, one of the best independent theatres in the world. 

A Unique Film Experience

The amazing films, the industry guests, a chance to meet other filmmakers and cinephiles like myself; I had no idea Toronto had so much to offer in terms of film.  Ever since my first festival back in 2012, I’ve been a large supporter of TIFF and the Lightbox, attending various talks, special screenings, gallery presentations, and even becoming a member.  Basically, I’m a die hard fan.  Located in the heart of downtown Toronto, right at the corner of King and John, the Lightbox has put Toronto on the map since its induction in 2010 for its incredible dedication to film and as the headquarters for the world renowned TIFF. It offers a wide array of film screenings, activities and events that can all be easily found on their website, https://www.tiff.net/.

So you might be asking, “I’m not even a film student, Peter.  Why should I bother making the trip all the way downtown to go to some fancy theatre?”  I don’t want to make it sound like the Lightbox and TIFF are only for film fans or filmmakers, because it’s much more than that.  TIFF is a cultural hub, a place to meet other people who are interested in learning about other cultures through the moving image.  It’s a place where you can engage with art, socialize with other members and staff, and, most importantly, where you can share your love of film.

First off, the content that TIFF provides exceeds anything presented at the other theatres in the city.  Cineplex might be playing the big Hollywood films, but the award winning foreign films which have no where else to go will only be playing at the Lightbox.  They do special one-night-only screenings of films like Kurosawa’s RAN in 4K, or do double features of Joon-ho Bong movies.  They once did a 4K screening of Tampopo with guest speaker chef Jamie Kennedy, and even handed out coupons to Kinton Ramen (you need to watch the movie to understand why)!  They put on retrospectives of filmmakers, presenting their filmographies over a span of many weeks.  Some recent retrospectives they’ve done have been for Denis Velleneuve, and Brian De Palma.

I know, you might be thinking, “But Peter, watching movies is expensive, I’m trying to find ways to save money, not blow my savings away!”  Well, it’s a good thing that the films at the Lightbox are cheaper than the films offered at the Cineplex theatres.  As students, movies only cost $11.50, and a one-year membership only costs $49 ($99 after you graduate school).  If you become a member, tickets to films only cost $9.50.   It costs less to see a movie at the Lightbox than it does to buy Z-Teca at York Lanes, so you be the judge.

More than Just Film

So, you go to the Lightbox and you are all filmed out.  You’ve watched a 4 hour long Russian art-house film with the director doing a 20 minute Q&A, and it only cost you $9.50.  You are saying to yourself “Jeez, I wish there was more to do here other than just watch movies,” and you know what, I can feel that.  It’s a good thing the Lightbox is also the host to one of downtown’s luxurious restaurants, LUMA.  LUMA is located on the top floor of the Lightbox and, although the food may not be cheap (meals generally range from $25 to $50), it has an excellent atmosphere, friendly staff, and even the occasional celebrity enjoying their meal!  LUMA is also host to a bar where you can have a more casual experience with your friends after a film.

Other than traditional screenings, the Lightbox is host to other events such as MDFF, which has a monthly screening of independent films from around the world, and the Prism Prize award which is an award ceremony dedicated to Canadian music videos.  They even have filmmakers come in and do lengthy talks with audience Q&As.  Most recently, over the summer the Lightbox housed a virtual reality exhibition where Torontonians could explore the new ground breaking technology and story telling possibilities being explored through VR.

Art-house films, classic cinema, great food, an amazing community… The possibilities at the TIFF Bell Lightbox are endless.  Visit https://www.tiff.net/ to get more information on upcoming showings and special events, and make use of that student discount!  Experience something that could change your life — I’ll see you there!