Title: Artistic Director, TIFF
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Cameron Bailey is the Artistic Director of the world renowned Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), Film Programmer, Film Critic, and modern day cultural philosopher. Before he became all of these things, Cameron credits the wealth of knowledge and hard work of those who came before him, and guided him along the way.
As a young child, Cameron lived with his grandparents in Barbados after spending the first four years of his life in England with his parents. Cameron does carry the lessons bestowed by his grandparent’s; humility, hard work and a philosophical (or religious) understanding that there was something ‘larger’ – something more than one’s immediate surroundings.
After spending four years in Barbados, a twelve year old Cameron and his older sister Maxine Bailey were reunited with their parents in Canada. While he recalls the early days of life in a then 1970’s Canada “as lonely and sometimes racially hostile”, Cameron believes that the true credit belongs to his mother. Cameron, who became a father three years ago, reflects on his mother’s fortitude, as she had to contend with beginning her career as a nurse and also adapt to being a newly single mother.
Cameron believes that the true credit belongs to his mother.As Cameron entered his teen years, his natural love of reading and writing quickly turned into a dream of being a journalist. In high school, Cameron became the co-editor of his high school newspaper, with writings most often reflecting the usual banter of a high school student. It was an act of racial hatred, by a group who had dropped flyers stating their dismay with the number of immigrants, that gave this budding journalist a new understanding of the power of the written word and on a personal level established the man he would become. As a young journalist, Cameron saw the need to address this issue, and incite a discussion on why these acts of racism mattered. Despite initial challenges from his Principal, Cameron, with the help of his co-editor, wrote the article denouncing the incident and generated a debate among his schoolmates.
When Cameron entered university in 1982, the excitement of sharing ideas and seeing his work recognized by a school populous did not wane. Being the first in his family to attend university, he continued on his path of becoming a journalist, at the University of Western Ontario, (class of ‘87), where he studied English, wrote for the entertainment section of the Gazette (the school newspaper) and hosted a campus radio show, playing mainly the soulful sounds of the ‘60’s and 70’s.
While his extracurricular activities enabled Cameron to explore and deepen his passion for culture and the written word, his experiences of what could be learned in the classroom would forever change, when he enrolled in two film courses in his second year. It was in his contemporary film class, led by a dynamic Sarah McLennan, Ph.D, where a youthful Cameron came to the revelation that “film could do more than just entertain.” For him, sitting and watching those often revolutionary visual experiences emoted a similar feeling that he received when reading a book which masterfully shared, shaped and challenged a way of thinking.
With the revelation of the transformative and thought provoking nature of film Cameron’s course in life would again change. When it came to choosing a graduate studies program, Cameron’s early intention of pursuing journalism academically was replaced by his interest in a theoretical understanding of contemporary culture. By the late 1980’s, Cameron chose to attend York University, where he was set to major in both social political thought and cinema studies.
While he was always an engaging and thoughtful student, Cameron decided not to finish his masters as he saw more value in the application of using “culture as a political vehicle.” After leaving York in 1989, Cameron continued to write reviews for Cinema Canada. Within a year he began a long-standing career as film critic, with Now Magazine. Film criticism remained central to his early career, as Cameron also worked as a radio host for CKLN and began to branch out into film programming. It was also during the late 1980’s and early 1990’s that Cameron began to volunteer with anti-racist film-oriented organizations, such as the Black Film and Video Network and Full Screen.
Noticing Cameron’s talent as a film programmer, outspoken critic and activist, Piers Handling, CEO of TIFF, approached Cameron in 1989 to join the Toronto International Film Festival. After declining his first offer, Piers would try again, this time to a more confident Cameron. In 1990, Cameron began his career as a film programmer for the annual film festival. Despite a brief departure in 2005, Cameron would continue with TIFF, where he has contributed to the organizations growth as one of the premier film festivals in the world, and now to it’s becoming one of Toronto’s best year-round cultural institutions.
Five years into being a part of the Film Festival’s team that selected the Canadian content, Cameron created Planet Africa in 1995. Under that division, Cameron viewed and selected the films from the continent of Africa and the African diaspora that would be shown at the Festival, along with hosting the annual Planet Africa party. In the ten years that Planet Africa ran, it successfully created a new audience to view the talented productions by the African Diaspora. Despite questions of its ending, the legacy of Planet Africa, and Cameron’s commitment can now be seen as laying the foundation for a more widely viewed niche market. In recent years, black created and focused films have been integrated into the festival as a whole; and are now regarded as some of the worlds best, as is the case with Lee Daniels <em>Precious,</em> and as in the case with Shola Lynch’s <em>Free Angela and all Political Prisoners </em> which was shown in Toronto’s marquee venue, Roy Thompson Hall.
Today, Cameron continues to be an integral part of the success of both the Toronto International Film Festival, as Artistic Director, and to TIFF the organization, as a year-round programmer. As he travels the world searching for the films that emote, transform and create discourse, he remains a respected leader in his community, lover of all cultures and above all else a doting family man.
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