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TIFF closing in on its Lightbox fundraising goals

Movie-goers line up outside the TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto during the film festival last September.

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It's been an arduous eight-year ascent for the Toronto International Film Festival but it appears the summit is within reach. This week the festival announced it recently received donations totalling $7-million, all of them earmarked for the $196-million capital and endowment campaign for the Bell Lightbox, the festival's purpose-built headquarters which opened last September in downtown Toronto.

The announcement means that TIFF has reached 96 per cent of its fundraising goal and is now "only" $8.2-million short of completion.

The festival, founded in 1976, announced in April 2003 that it had decided to construct a purpose-built headquarters, including several theatres, with an anticipated construction start of 2005.

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However, ground for the Lightbox was only broken in spring 2007. When it appeared likely that the five-storey facility, built as a podium for a condominium high-rise, would not reach its fundraising targets by opening day, the Ontario government in spring 2009 agreed to provide TIFF with a low-interest loan of up to $46-million.

Spearheading this most recent round of donations, according to sources close to TIFF, were HSBC Bank Canada and Toronto hotelier Steve Gupta.

Together they're contributing a total of $4-million. The $3-million from HSBC, described by the film festival as "one of the largest philanthropic contributions ever made to TIFF," gives the bank naming rights to the Lightbox's main-floor gallery, which is currently hosting an exhibition of works by U.S. director Tim Burton.

Gupta's $1-million gift gets his name and that of his wife, Rashmi, affixed to the Lightbox's box-office. In addition, three Gupta-owned downtown Toronto hotels, the Marriott Residence Inn and two Hilton Garden Inns, get to be called "Premiere TIFF Bell Lightbox Hotels."

Meanwhile, TIFF is reporting that it is half-way to its goal of raising $1-million in its "Reach for the Top" initiative. The campaign, started a year ago, is to finance the Lightbox's rooftop space, including a large outdoor staircase inspired by the Malaparte staircase on the isle of Capri, immortalized cinematically in Jean-Luc Godard's 1963 film Contempt starring Brigitte Bardot.

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