TIFF co-head Joana Vicente exits role after three years, heads to Sundance

·3 min read

TORONTO — Joana Vicente is leaving the Toronto International Film Festival after three years as its co-head and executive director.

Organizers at TIFF, which operates one of the world’s largest film festivals as well as year-round events at the TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto, say Vicente will exit her role on Oct. 31 and move back to the United States.

She will join the Sundance Institute as its chief executive officer in November.

"The last 18 months have been challenging for so many reasons, not least of which was living in a different country than my family," Vicente said Wednesday in a statement.

"The opportunity to lead the team at Sundance and return to New York feels like the right decision personally and professionally."

Vicente joined TIFF in late 2018 with an objective to expand the organization amid an "ever-changing media landscape."

She stepped into the role after spending a decade at the Independent Filmmaker Project in New York, as well as producing more than 40 films.

At TIFF, Vicente split the role of co-head with Cameron Bailey, who currently also serves as artistic director.

Together, they led the film festival through two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, facing an array of challenges that ranged from launching a virtual screening platform to navigating heath guidelines for public gatherings to introducing the TIFF Tribute Awards, an evening fundraiser that turned into a televised event on CTV last year and streamed internationally online.

While at TIFF, Vicente worked alongside Bailey to reorganize the non-profit with the goal of long-term sustainability, an objective that faced even greater challenge as the pandemic shuttered the Lightbox for a year and a half.

In June 2020, the organization announced it would lay off 31 employees — about 17 per cent of its full-time staff — as it dealt with the early impacts of COVID-19 closures.

TIFF also announced a new fundraising campaign and plans to cut discretionary projects and various expenses, including salaries at the executive, senior management and management levels.

The Lightbox will officially reopen for public events in October after hosting dozens of screenings for the recently concluded film festival. But it does so in a dramatically altered landscape in which more distributors opt for day-and-date home releases, particularly for smaller independent films.

Despite the sea change, Vicente remained confident in the future of TIFF as an organization, saying that "as an international platform for world cinema making an impact locally and globally, TIFF has never been stronger, and I look forward to cheering the organization’s continued success."

Jennifer Tory, chair of TIFF, said the hybrid digital and in-person festival drew 165,000 audience members, press and industry in Toronto and globally during its run from Sept. 9 to 18.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 29, 2021.

David Friend, The Canadian Press

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version noted Vicente joined TIFF in 2019. In fact, she joined in 2018.

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