Bell Media pre-gala party kicks off Toronto International Film Festival

The Roy Thomson Hall gathering this year was hosted by the media group after its takeover of long-time sponsor Astral Media (pictured: The Fifth Estate star Benedict Cumberbatch).
Benedict Cumberbatch Fifth Estate gala TIFF 2013-1

Bell Media’s Kevin Crull on Thursday evening performed a role long done by Astral Media’s Ian Greenberg: welcoming top players in the Canadian industry to the Toronto International Film Festival.

“We are very happy to have all of you join us in celebrating the opening of the biggest, best, and most exciting film festival in the world, the Toronto International Film Festival, and tonight’s world premiere screening of The Fifth Estate,” Bell Media president Crull told a pre-gala party at Roy Thomson Hall.

Crull hosted a party long sponsored by Astral Media and The Movie Network, now that both are part of Bell Media.

“With our two companies now joined, everyone at Bell Media feels very privileged to continue the Astral legacy, not only with TIFF, but with so much more,” Crull said during a brief address.

Besides touting Canadian features and shorts that are part of the TIFF lineup before showing up on TMN and other Bell Media channels, Crull unveiled plans for bravoFACTUAL, to fund short documentaries.

The new program comes on top of bravoFACT, which helps finance short dramatic films.

One of those bravoFACT titles, Danis Goulet’s Wakening, screened Thursday night before TIFF’s opening night film, The Fifth Estate, at the Elgin Theatre.

The pre-gala party also hosted producers and talent from The Fifth Estate before a main-stage screening at Roy Thomson Hall.

The WikiLeaks drama’s screenwriter Josh Singer recalled being at TIFF three years ago just as he was prepping to pitch Dreamworks on adapting two books on Julian Assange for a The Fifth Estate script.

“Deciding to take a shot, I spent the weekend with some college buddies, trying to get my head around how to cover the (Wikileaks) issues and make it entertaining,” Singer remembered.

Also on hand at the pre-gala party was Noah Cowan, artistic director of Bell Lightbox, NBCUniversal Canada’s Ron Suter, Ira Levy, executive producer at Breakthrough Entertainment, and Phil King, president of CTV programming and sports at Bell Media.

The Canadian industry also got a shout-out just ahead of the world premiere for The Fifth Estate when Ontario premier Kathleen Wynne addressed the Roy Thomson Hall audience.

“The film industry is a huge contributor to our local and global economies. This is a job creator. And our government is fiercely proud to support this industry,” Wynne said.

The Ontario premier was followed by a tribute to the late Roger Ebert, which included a short film about the legendary film critic and his long-standing support for TIFF.

“Roger Ebert was a huge presence at our festival for 30 years. He was one of the key people who put us on the map,” Piers Handling, CEO of the Toronto International Film Festival Group, said before giving Chaz Ebert, his widow, a memorial plaque.

The Toronto International Film Festival runs to Sept. 15.

Pictured: The Fifth Estate star Benedict Cumberbatch walks the Roy Thomson Hall red carpet. Photo courtesy Dome Productions B-roll