Noah Cowan, the future of TIFF

It took a move away from the Toronto International Film Festival, and in fact a move away from Canada altogether, to make Noah Cowan the perfect candidate for codirector and eventually director of TIFF.

It took a move away from the Toronto International Film Festival, and in fact a move away from Canada altogether, to make Noah Cowan the perfect candidate for codirector and eventually director of TIFF.

Cowan formally took the position Jan. 1 and will share the title of festival codirector with TIFF Group CEO Piers Handling for a three-year transitional period before assuming the role of director.

‘I’m really excited about the challenge. It’s a heavy burden and a lot of responsibility, but I’m particularly looking forward to reengaging with Canadian cinema,’ says Cowan.

Cowan, 36, has a long history with the festival, but Handling says it was his departure from TIFF in 2002 that gave him the diverse skills and experience necessary to successfully direct Canada’s preeminent film festival.

‘I think it’s useful to step outside the organization, upgrade your skills and get a different perspective on the festival,’ says Handling. ‘[Cowan] has become more well-rounded and his industry contacts have grown broader.’

Cowan took a summer job at the festival box office in 1981, while still in high school. In 1989, he began programming at the festival and cofounded TIFF’s Midnight Madness program. Six years later, Cowan was an international programmer and became associate director of programming in 1997, where he spent three years as Handling’s right-hand man.

Cowan started New York distribution company Cowboy Pictures in 2000 and resigned his position as associate director, though he continued as Asian programmer for another two years before leaving the festival entirely to pursue Cowboy full-time. Most recently, Cowan was cocreator and executive director of Global Film Initiative, a not-for-profit foundation that promotes cinema from the developing world.

When Cowan takes over as director at the end of the three-year transition period, Handling will have done 20 festivals with TIFF, 12 as director or codirector and another eight as artistic director. He has watched the group’s budget expand from $4 million to $13 million, and its full-time staff grow from 20 to 80. But Handling says he has no plans to leave TIFF anytime soon.

‘I see myself living out the rest of my career here,’ he says. ‘I think the organization has grown to a size where it needs one CEO and one director of the festival.’

As CEO of the TIFF Group, Handling says he will focus on the organization’s year-round activities, which include Cinematheque Ontario, the Film Circuit, the Film Reference Library, Sprockets and Talk Cinema, in addition to finalizing development of the recently announced Festival Centre.

‘My next big target is to really think through the programming end of the new building,’ says Handling. ‘I’ve been so internationally and externally oriented, now Noah will be largely the external image of the organization. I need to get into the trenches here in Toronto.’

-www.e.bell.ca/filmfest