As the lights dimmed and the murmurings of anticipation subsided, 35,000 film lovers sat in the Ontario Place Cinesphere for the first night of the new Festival of Festivals in Toronto. The opening scene of ‘Cousin Cousine’ , a romantic comedy, captivated them as they watched, unaware that they were participating in what would eventually become one of the most prestigious film festivals in the world. The year was 1976. The Festival of Festivals or what is now known as The Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) was the creation of three men, William Marshall, Dusty Cohl and Henk Van Der Kolk.
Fast forward the reel to November 30, 2017. As the lights dimmed and the murmurings of anticipation subsided, friends and family of William (Bill) Marshall, TIFF Co-Founder and Chair Emeritus sat in a theatre of the TIFF Bell Lightbox and watched as the opening scene of ‘Outrageous’ captivated them.
The night began in the Founders Lounge, an intimate gathering of guests, greeting each other with the ease of the film industry. Drinks and toasts celebrated the life of Marshall who sadly passed away January 1, 2017 from cardiac arrest at the age of 77. But it wasn’t until we entered the sold out theatre and heard from mayors past and present, industry associates, friends, family, and lastly his widow Sari Ruda, that we couldn’t help but become endeared with Marshall.
Stories were told and memories shared, showing us what printed words in black and white could not. The colourful descriptions of Marshall…charming, unorthodox, creative, passionate, witty, mischievous, well read and just lots of fun helped us to relive the times that brought out the rebels and got rid of the boring. Marshall once told the Globe and Mail, “Before this, Toronto was a very dull, black and white, symphony and opera town. You went out to the opera, had a glass of punch, then went home. But we were partying as hard as we could into the small hours of the morning. We brought out the rock ’n’ roll side of Toronto.” Marshall lured followers with his vision of Hollywood stars roaming the streets of Toronto and what he lacked in financial management he made up for as a mastermind of promotion.
Marshall’s canny craziness, storytelling, honesty, humour and enthusiasm was applauded, but what was endearing was the gentle teasing. Marshall’s ‘office’ at the Windsor Arms where he indulged in ‘smart cocktails’ brought laughter, as did his name for money ‘fun tickets’ which he excessively used to participate in the all night debauchery that the festival and its patrons revelled in. In fact Marshall along with Cohl and Van Der Kolk were the rebels that lead the way into the star filled nights.
We walked into the night with images of stars, outrageous bar bills, exciting times, debauchery, and with the thought that amongst the piles of drinks tons of laughter had been shared.