TIFF's Programmer of Canadian Features, Magali Simard

Posted by Jen McNeely, September 02, 2016
Magali Simard Lunch + Learn TIFF

Photo by George Pimentel

When she was a student, Magali Simard would camp out on the sidewalk in front of the Manulife Building on Bloor Street in order to snag the first TIFF tickets when the box office opened. At the time, she was at UofT doing an undergrad in Cinema Studies, and the idea of one day working at TIFF was a far-off dream. "TIFF to me was like Cannes, something you don't think you could ever truly be a part of."

That was around 2005, not long before Magali landed an internship at the festival. ("I rolled posters.") Now she's the one responsible for programming TIFF's Canadian Features. It's a powerful job, and the decisions that Magali makes can pivot the entire Canadian film industry in new directions. Being selected to show at TIFF is a game-changer that can have a domino effect when it comes to elevating careers or putting action into motion. With opening night only days away, the energy buzzing at TIFF Bell Lightbox is palpable. There was no time for Magali to meet us at Drake One Fifty, so we brought lunch to her.

Magali Simard Lunch + Learn TIFF

Still from "Anatomy of Violence"

Magali grew up in Gatineau, Quebec, and her French-Canadian accent is strong and part of her charm. "I wanted to get better at English. I didn't know a soul in Toronto," says Magali about her decision to accept the placement in UofT's Cinema Studies undergraduate program. While she had grown up in a home where subtitled films played in the living room, and had enjoyed her film courses at CEGEP, it was studying film intensely at UofT that really lit her passion. "Some of my teachers still remain close friends of mine. They literally changed the course of my life."

TIFF 2016 will be Magali's tenth festival, and she's seen significant growth in the industry since she started. "We now expect Canadian films at every single major festival in the world. Fifteen or twenty years ago, we'd be lucky if we got one. Now, it would be bizarre not to have Canadian films at Cannes or Sundance every year."

So what is Canadian film? "If someone Canadian made a film, unless it's a studio picture from the US, then it is a Canadian film. I love that one of our films is completely shot in China, with Chinese actors. For anyone seeing it, they wouldn't know it's Canadian. That's okay, I don't think we need to be overly patriotic."

While this is a hot area for debate in the industry, one thing is for certain: what Canada is creating right now is an accurate portrayal of who we are. "We look at our list this year and it's this proud realization of the diversity represented that we did not have to try for. It rises to the top on its own," she says with excitement and pride. "Canada is one of the most multicultural countries in the world, and you can only hope that it will be reflected in your arts. In fact, if it's going to be reflected properly somewhere, you hope it starts in your arts – that's where people should have the freedom to be completely honest."

Magali Simard Lunch + Learn TIFF

Still from "Weirdos"

Magali is excited for all of the Canadian features selected this year. She describes Bruce McDonald's Weirdos as having "tons of heart" and being one of his most charming films to date, and she thinks Deepa Mehta's Anatomy of Violence is shockingly bold. "We picked twenty-two films this year. We could have showed forty-five really solid movies."

She also admits that while she takes her work seriously (and she does) she's a total party animal. "I love that it's a social industry! I love the celebration, onstage with the film on the screen, and after at the bar with the filmmakers when it's time to celebrate them." With the Canada Party happening here at The Drake, we can't wait to celebrate our top homegrown talent too.

So, with ten years under her belt, what's her secret for getting through those jam-packed ten days? "I drink Red Bull and select all my outfits in advance so all I have to do is wake up in the morning and point."

There's a ton to celebrate at TIFF this year, but we're raising our glass extra high to the exceptional Canadian films that make us proud to be on the world stage.

Magali Simard Lunch + Learn TIFF

Magali as gracious host of our 2015 Oscars Party at The Drake Hotel

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Tags: Drake One Fifty  film festival  Lunch & Learn  TIFF  Toronto