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The TIFF Bell Lightbox, in Toronto, on Aug. 31, 2020.Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

The Toronto International Film Festival, arguably the crown jewel of the Canadian film industry, now has a precious stone to call its own. On Thursday, TIFF announced that the historic Rome-based luxury brand Bvlgari has signed on as a “major” sponsor and official jewellery partner of the festival. The three-year deal includes sponsorship of a “high-style” portrait studio and the fourth annual TIFF Tribute Awards fundraising gala, to be held this year at the Fairmont Royal York Hotel.

”The link between Bvlgari and the cinema has deep roots that have determined the DNA of the brand and have helped us to tell the audacity, creativity and excellence for which Bvlgari is today so famous in the world,” Jean-Christophe Babin, CEO of Bvlgari Group, said in a statement. “Being a partner of TIFF allows us not only to nurture this legacy, but also the works of new and upcoming talent.”

The deal was spearheaded by Elisabeth Burks, who joined TIFF as vice-president of partnerships this past January with the goal of driving revenue growth and developing a “sustainable competitive advantage” for TIFF within the domestic and international markets. Bvlgari, which is no stranger to the film-festival world, having sponsored previous editions of the Berlinale, Cannes, Venice and Singapore fests, represents a coup for Burks’ division, which typically brings in 25 to 30 per cent of the not-for-profit’s annual operating revenue.

Inside TIFF’s top-to-bottom plan to emerge from a long, cruel winter

TIFF would not disclose the financial terms of the partnership, but a representative said that the deal is “very much in keeping with what you would expect from a brand of Bvlgari’s stature and prominence, and is reflective of the significant value that TIFF delivers to its partners.”

Crucially, the deal helps TIFF – the largest publicly attended film festival in the world – compensate for a recent shakeup of its “major” corporate sponsors: L’Oréal remains with the festival but has “repositioned themselves at a different level.” Bvlgari now joins long-time major sponsors RBC and Visa, while Bell remains TIFF’s “lead” sponsor.

While Bvlgari is not the first jewellery partner TIFF has secured over its 47 years, the deal is a bling-bright symbol that the festival is aiming to reassert its bigger, stronger, glitzier prepandemic self after two years in scaled-down hybrid mode. As announced last month, this year’s TIFF is being planned as a “fully in-person” affair, with 11 days of full-capacity screenings at familiar venues including the Lightbox, Roy Thomson Hall, the Princess of Wales Theatre, the Scotiabank multiplex, and, for the first time, the Royal Alexandra Theatre. Meanwhile, the number of films TIFF will screen looks to be near prepandemic levels – although with few virtual elements.

”We’re not going to do online like the last two years,” TIFF chief executive Cameron Bailey said during a press event last month. “But we did learn things. So we have a digital platform year-round, and for festival time we want to have an offering there. It won’t be the full festival, but a sampling.”

That sampling might be incredibly small, though – there were no virtual-screening ticketing options listed when TIFF revealed its 2022 pricing tiers last month. (Prices for this year’s festival start at $19 for regular screenings and go up to $127 for the opening night film.)

The recent wave of news coming out of TIFF – which includes last month’s spate of high-profile staff hires, including the appointments of Beth Janson as the organization’s chief operating officer and Anita Lee as its first chief programming officer – arrives as film festivals around the world look to regain their prepandemic footholds in the anxiety-wracked industry.

Earlier this week, the Cannes festival, which opens for a fully in-person run May 17, announced that it was eliminating most of its COVID-19 restrictions, including mask mandates. The same day, Sundance announced that, after two virtual-only editions, it will host a significantly larger 2023 program with in-person and online screenings.

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