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Lightbox aims to draw filmmakers to its facilities

Barr Gilmore, designer of the Essential Cinema exhibition, stands in the midst of his exhibit at the Bell Lightbox.

Chris Young / CP/Chris Young / CP

After the marquee actors and auteurs arrive on the red carpet at TIFF Bell Lightbox, the gleaming new headquarters of the Toronto International Film Festival, they'll head up to the state-of-the-art cinemas on the second floor.

Illustration by Tonia Cowan / The Globe and Mail. Click to view at full size.

But the true in-crowd will ride one floor higher.

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That's where Lightbox has two additional cinemas, dedicated to showing more experimental works, presenting lectures and teaching young filmmakers. As well, there's a Learning Studio: high-tech-ready rooms filmmakers can use as work spaces. These spaces promise to make Lightbox more than just an elaborate cinematheque, but also a place for the creation of new works.

The purpose of the building, says TIFF's director of public programmes Shane Smith, is not only to show the best of world cinema rarely seen outside the festival circuit. The aim is also to draw untapped audiences into Lightbox from schools and universities and to pull working filmmakers into the building to use its resources. Everything from Lightbox's high-tech facilities, to TIFF's Film Reference Library, to simply the wealth of insights from visiting filmmakers and scholars are all seen as a magnet for the film community.

"We're definitely welcoming the film industry into the building. We want them to feel like it's a building that they can utilize as well," Smith says. "They don't just have to come in because their film is screening. They can come because they need a meeting space, they need to do a read-through, they want to have a casting session. Perhaps they want to do a test screening or a cast-and-crew screening. All those opportunities are available at TIFF Bell Lightbox for the film community at large."

The resources are placed on the higher floors, with the entrance to the building appealing to the larger public.

The first floor has a museum feel, with its soaring atrium and galleries devoted to film and video art projects and exhibits devoted to film. The opening exhibit focuses on Essential Cinema, an array of posters, photos and artifacts from some of the most loved and acclaimed movies in the film canon. Also on the first floor are various commissioned works, from director Guy Maddin's film fragments Hauntings to artist-designer's Barry Gilmore's series of superimposed film titles Essential Titles, exploring the typography of film titles.

Up one floor are the three main theatres, with the building taking on the feel of a sophisticated multiplex.

But then on the third floor, there's the intimate 150-seat Cinema 4, which will regularly be devoted to lectures and classes by day, particularly a series on Fridays catering to academics and guest speakers. By night, the theatre will show what Lightbox director Noah Cowan refers to as the more difficult films in the TIFF Cinematheque's program, as well as installations. From Sunday to October 3, Cinema 4 will show Atom Egoyan's hypnotic piece 8 1/2 Screens, which projects different snippets from Federico Fellini's film 8 1/2 simultaneously onto screens of various sizes.

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Next door on the third floor is the even-smaller Cinema 5, with a little under 100 seats. The rows can retract into the wall in about 15 minutes, leaving a completely empty cinema space to be used for filmmaking workshops for professionals, students and children. The cinema is wired for numerous technical uses such as working with green screens for superimposing actors onto backdrops, foley workshops and myriad other applications.

"There will be workshops that you sign up for, workshops that will be multiweek, activities like Director's Trademarks where you'll be able to examine how Alfred Hitchcock made films," Smith says. "But there will also be free drop-in activities happening on the weekends: special effects makeup, flipbooks, all kinds of easy-to-do and fun activities that if you're in the neighbourhood and you're seeing a screening at TIFF Bell Lightbox, then there's something for the kids to do as well."

This hands-on use is an extension of TIFF's Special Delivery outreach program, in which educators have gone into classes and after-school programs to teach filmmaking and visual literacy. "So we can go to community centres and Boys and Girls Clubs. We can take a filmmaker out. We can teach [students] scriptwriting, teach them to make a film in a day, all kinds of activities that we are able to take out into the community," Smith says. "Now having TIFF Bell Lightbox as our permanent home means that we can also invite those communities into the building and provide them services here."

Like most of TIFF's outreach and education programs, funding has come from numerous sources. For instance, Special Delivery receives funding from both the province and the city, as well as from foundations.

Down a corridor is a large flexible room, the Learning Studios, which can be divided up into smaller spaces for meetings and for technical uses. "There's no fixed furniture in there. So they are multi purpose. They can also be used as screening rooms. There are screens in there and video projection facilities. So those can also be used for test screenings or for lectures, for workshops for continuing education. There's no limit to what's possible in those spaces," Smith said.

"The third floor is really the hub for learning activities in the building, [as well as]the Film Reference Library on the fourth floor," Smith adds. "It's definitely about audience development and getting them in the building to see what we've got to offer."

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Guy Dixon is a feature writer for The Globe and Mail. More

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