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Film TIFF 2018: New York independent film veteran Joana Vicente named TIFF executive director, co-head

A week before the Toronto International Film Festival kicks off its 43rd edition, the organization reached the third act of its own high-stakes drama on Tuesday, when it announced Joana Vicente as TIFF’s new executive director and co-head.

Vicente, who will serve alongside TIFF's artistic director and co-head Cameron Bailey, was until now executive director of the New York-based Independent Filmmaker Project (IFP), the largest and oldest organization of independent filmmakers in the United States and, like TIFF, a not-for-profit. Under her tenure, the IFP partnered with various New York City agencies to open the Made in NY Media Center in 2013. The 20,000-square-foot Brooklyn building, for which Vicente helped attract donors and sponsors to supplement city funding, is billed by the IFP as a "new kind of co-working space and exhibition venue designed to connect and incubate the next generation of artists and creators."

Joana Vicente is seen in a handout photo.

Handout/TIFF

Prior to taking on the lead role with the IFP in 2009, Vicente carved out a prolific career as a film producer, working with such indie-film icons as Nicole Holofcener (Lovely & Amazing), Jim Jarmusch (Coffee and Cigarettes), Brian De Palma (Redacted) and Todd Solondz (Welcome to the Dollhouse).

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“The hiring committee was deeply impressed with Joana’s combined history as a producer, a champion of independent filmmakers and with her success in fundraising and partnerships,” Jennifer Tory, chair of TIFF’s board, said in a statement. "Her extensive knowledge of the changing global film landscape solidified the decision. The board is confident that Joana and Cameron are the perfect duo to take TIFF into the future.”

Read more: The Globe’s guide to TIFF 2018 movies

Vicente, who was unavailable for an interview, said in a statement: "I’ve always looked to TIFF as a prominent international platform for world cinema, with an impact that is both local and global. Cameron’s artistic vision is inspiring and I look forward to working with him and with the passionate team at TIFF to expand the organization at an exciting moment in our ever-changing media landscape.”

In his own statement, Bailey added: “Joana’s combined expertise as a leader, a manager and a creator will be an invaluable asset to TIFF. I’m looking forward to working together with Joana to keep TIFF at the forefront of our industry’s change.”

The appointment ends a year of speculation among members of Canada’s arts community, ever since Piers Handling revealed last September that he would be stepping down as TIFF’s director and CEO after 24 years at the top.

In April, TIFF announced that instead of seeking a direct replacement for Handling, it would instead introduce a new two-headed leadership structure.

Bailey, previously TIFF’s artistic director and Handling’s No. 2, was promoted to the newly created position of “artistic director and co-head,” reporting directly to the board effective Oct. 1, while an incoming co-head and executive director would focus on “revenue optimization,” particularly within the organization’s Lightbox headquarters, a year-round five-cinema venue opened in 2010.

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The building, which Handling once proclaimed would “put Toronto on the international map year-round,” becoming a “magnet” that would walk the fine line between cinematic integrity and commercial viability, has struggled to adjust to the changes roiling the industry. Last year, TIFF revealed that attendance at the Lightbox cinemas plunged in 2016, with 130,585 attendees compared with 179,653 the year before, a 27-per-cent drop. At the same time, TIFF reported a nearly $1-million deficit in its 2016 annual report.

Yet, there are signs of a rebound. In June, TIFF reported a surplus of about $1.5-million in its 2017 annual report, and on Tuesday the organization revealed that attendance at the Lightbox has bounced back, with 197,240 attendees in 2017, an increase of about 51 per cent from the year before.

Bailey has previously touted the strength of the organization’s new five-year strategic plan for 2018-22, part of which involves a “reimagining” of the entire Lightbox. “We want to make sure the building is actually tuned to the audience segments we’re going after,” he told The Globe and Mail last summer.

Vicente’s appointment also comes two weeks after Michele Maheux, TIFF’s long-time executive director and chief operating officer, announced she would be retiring in the summer of 2019, but dedicating her remaining time with the institution to “ensuring a smooth leadership transition.”

Vicente will attend this year’s edition of TIFF, running from Sept. 6 through 16, while continuing to oversee the production of the IFP’s Gotham Awards, which take place on Nov. 26. She will start at TIFF effective Nov. 1.

The Toronto International Film Festival has announced its 2018 Canadian lineup, including eight female-directed films out of 20 features. TIFF also revealed Xavier Dolan’s English-language debut will premiere at this year’s fest. The Canadian Press
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