BGN Interview: Cameron Bailey Talks Diversity and His Critical Foundation

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This is part II of the interview with the Artistic Director and the Co-Head of the Toronto International Film Festival Cameron Bailey. In part I, he went into the process of selecting films for the festival and addressed safety concerns after the Danforth mass shooting. Today, we delve more into diversity in the 2018 festival lineup and get a peek into Bailey’s own early work as a film critic

Some of the questions I wanted to ask most of Cameron Bailey were about his early work as a film a critic and his views on diversity in the industry. The Artistic Director and Co-Head of the Toronto International Film Festival opened up and left some advice for budding critics looking to make their own mark on the field.

A Critical Foundation

Bailey’s early work as a critic is still viewable on the NOW! Magazine website. He also worked for CBC Radio One and CTV’s Canada AM, all prepared him for the work at TIFF. In fact, his days as a critic overlapped with his early work for the festival as a programmer, and the critical skills did come in handy.

“They are related jobs and skills that you need to develop. As a critic, I loved just watching movies, assessing them, thinking them through, writing about them, expressing my view. All of that you have to do as a programmer as well.” His first job for TIFF was to work with a team to help curate the selections for the festival. Bailey’s work as a critic didn’t end for some time after he started working for TIFF and the position benefited.

‘If Beale Street Could Talk’ is a film by Barry Jenkins. It will debut at the 2018 TIFF

There is another layer of responsibility that he found that the job included advocating for the film. “It’s your job to also get out there and say, ‘Look, people need to pay attention to this film,’ And for those reasons, and the filmmaking and what [the film] is saying, and who the filmmakers are and their story.”

That job got bigger as he moved up the ranks. “All those things are something that you begin to take on as a programmer, and then as a festival programmer. And then, as a festival director, where you’re really out there trying to champion the films that we believe in as a festival. And, make sure audiences pay attention.”

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However, he stresses that importance of the audience along the way. “The big difference is that you’re connected to an audience–when you’re a programmer and when you’re running a festival–in a way that you’re not as a critic.” Bailey admits that he loves the audience connection. “The audience will challenge us as well. The Toronto audience is famous for finding those films that go on to win Oscars and to be celebrated for months and years to come.” He adds that this makes him want to “make sure that I’m putting the films that they’re really going to respond to in front of them every year.”

Alfonso Cuaron directing ‘Roma’

Diversity Matters

Cameron Bailey wants to ensure that the films get their proper attention and exposure. “You know films like Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma, films like Stella Meghie’s The Weekend, and the really independent visions and perspectives are still in the room.” He explains that it is time for such considerations at the festival, which the “sort of media landscape for those kinds of personal perspectives.”

Bailey believes that the big diversity changes are more recent and are necessary. “More people [are] recognizing that a critic’s perspective—one critic’s perspective—is not necessarily a universal perspective.”

He says that the perspective is much more than an opinion. It comes from, “the background of the critics, their life experiences, their particular critical perspective. All of those things matter and are affected by who we are as people—our racial identity, our gender identity, our sexual orientation. All of those things actually affect how we respond to films and as a result how we write about them and the opinions that we develop.”

Bailey and TIFF are helping by, “opening more space for a wider range of opinions.” He admits that it has taken far too long for such a decision, but the festival will be at the forefront, by increasing the diversity in not only the selections available at the festival but also in the critics invited to view them. The festival increased its underrepresented press by 20% with a wide range of critics slated to attend the festival this year.

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Critical Advice

Stella Meghie, director of ‘Everything, Everything,” will present ‘The Weekend’ at TIFF 2018.

I asked Bailey if he had any advice for all the film nerds out there who would love to become film critics. He told me, “the good news is that it’s easier (and harder in some ways) than it was when I started because you can begin writing and publishing your views on films any time you want. All you need is your own blog.”

He knows that you are going to respond, “But it’s not that simple for us out here, Mr. Cameron Bailey.”

Actually, he says it is, with work and persistence. “Saying what you’re going to say and developing your voice as a critic takes more time. I think it comes with just watching as many films as you can. And, not just the new films that come out, but older films as well. Not commercial films, but independent films. Not North American films, but ones from around the world.”

All that film watching and writing about them on your blog has a point. “The more films you watch, the more you think about and write about them. The more you force yourself to come up with an opinion and a perspective in your writing, the better you’ll get. If you’re are any good at all, and you’ve got a unique perspective, then, you’ll get readers. People will gravitate towards what you’re putting out there.”

Just keeping writing and watching and writing.

That’s exactly what this writer intends to do this year at TIFF. I am one of the new black critics invited to the festival for the first time. If it is also your first go-round at TIFF, then Bailey has advice. He told me that there are so many films to see and so little time to do it, that we festival virgins must plan our days well. He also recommends having a standby list just in case something happens and, “comfortable shoes.” TIFF entails a LOT of walking.

The Toronto International Film Festival runs September 6-16.