Goodbye, Yorkville, our old friend: A peek inside TIFF’s skeletal new home, the Bell Lightbox

Goodbye, Yorkville, our old friend: A peek inside TIFF’s skeletal new home, the Bell Lightbox

Noah Cowan, Bell Lightbox artistic director, shows off the fourth floor of the building that will be used as a film reference library (All photos by Karon Liu). 

Although the Toronto International Film Festival won’t be settling into its new home until this time next year, last week we donned hard hats, construction boots and goggles (and signed a spooky-looking safety waiver) and took a tour of the half-built Bell Lightbox. Oh, the perils of entertainment reporting.

The five-storey tower at the corner of King and John Streets (a $22-million piece of land donated by Ivan Reitman, his sisters and the Daniels Corporation) will have five theatres with a total of 1,300 seats, learning studios for film students and two dining spaces occupied by Oliver and Bonacini. Noah Cowan, artistic director of the Bell Lightbox and a former TIFF co-director, says that the goal is to move the festival into a more central downtown location over the next three years.

“We have historic ties to Yorkville that we hope will continue, but realistically this is the hub,” Cowan says. “If I were to make a guess, will we still have theatres in Yorkville in five years? Probably not. Will we still use the Ryerson Theatre? Probably yes.”

Still, he says, the five Lightbox theatres can’t accommodate all the films screened at the festival (there are no plans to decrease the number of participating films anytime soon), so larger venues like Roy Thomson Hall and the Visa Screening Room will still be used.

“We think a rising tide lifts all boats. The more film culture that is in a city, the better off everyone’s going to be. My hope is that the Lightbox won’t supplant [The Bloor and The Royal] but provide a new impetus for their programming and new energy for people to go and experience things outside of the traditional blockbusters.”

For the Lightbox, this means that foreign language, documentary, Canadian and restored films can be shown in its cinemas during the 355 non-TIFF days each year. The plan is to have the larger theatres host performances and concerts while the smaller theatre on the top floor acts as a student space where aspiring filmmakers can edit and screen their films. The top floor will also be home to a film reference library tentatively called the Canadian Film Heritage Gallery. Loungers and foodies will enjoy the marketplace and restaurant occupied by Oliver and Bonacini, as well as a patio on the roof.

Although the building is still in its concrete block stage (10,707 cubic metres of concrete, to be exact), architect Bruce Kuwabara and his firm KPMB (the National Ballet School, Gardiner Museum, Nota Bene) will incorporate their trademark minimalist aesthetic, with large windows, slate, zebrawood and a large atrium.