TIFF began in 1976 as the "Festival of Festivals," collecting the best films from other film festivals around the world and showing them to eager audiences in Toronto. That first year, 35,000 enthusiasts watched 127 films from 30 countries.
By 2012, those numbers have grown to feature 372 films from 72 countries, enjoyed by over 400,000 people. The Festival of Festivals (renamed the Toronto International Film Festival® in 1995) has introduced many of the world's great film artists to Toronto audiences. That first year, a spotlight on German cinema included films by Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Werner Herzog and Wim Wenders.
In the years that followed, many other artists have looked back on the Festival as the place where their films first reached a receptive audience and the foundations of their careers were built. These artists include: Paul Haggis, Jason Reitman, Michael Moore, David Cronenberg, and John Woo.
The secret of the Festival's success is its unique combination of two parallel festivals: one for a large audience passionate about film and one for the world's press and industry. The Festival also manages to be the launch pad for both big Hollywood films and art house cinema from around the world.
TIFF has grown, steadily adding initiatives. TIFF Cinematheque (formerly Cinematheque Ontario) and the Film Reference Library opened in 1990. TIFF Kids International Film Festival (formerly Sprockets) launched in 1998. Film Circuit began exhibiting independent and Canadian films in under-serviced cities across Canada in 1994. TIFF has remained committed to educating and broadening audiences, adding to the cultural richness of Canada’s community.
In 2010, TIFF opened TIFF Bell Lightbox, a unique centre for the appreciation of film in the heart of downtown Toronto. TIFF Bell Lightbox features five cinemas, two restaurants, major exhibitions, and learning and entertainment facilities. TIFF has remained committed to educating and broadening audiences, adding to the cultural richness of Canada’s community. Along the way, TIFF has become one of the most important and respected film institutions in the world.
- The first Festival of Festivals is held, founded by Bill Marshall, Henk Van der Kolk and Dusty Cohl.
- Festival hosts a seminal retrospective of Quebec cinema.
- Wayne Clarkson becomes Festival Director.
- Launch of the annual Symposium: Canada's largest business conference for filmmakers.
- The American Nightmare retrospective on US horror films organized by Robin Wood and Richard Lippe
- Industry programme Trade Forum launched at Festival (until 1991)
- Contemporary World Cinema programme created
- Perspectives Canada created, confirming Festival's commitment to bringing Canadian films and filmmakers to a wider, international audience
- Helga Stephenson named Festival Director, Piers Handling named Programming Director
- Midnight Madness programme created
- TIFF assumes management of Gerald Pratley's Ontario Film Institute. The Institute's screening programme is expanded to become Cinematheque Ontario (now TIFF Cinematheque). Resource Centre becomes Film Reference Library.
- The Strange Objects of David Cronenberg's Desire, an exhibit of artifacts and design related to Cronenberg's films, is organized with the Film Reference Library, launched in Tokyo, and exhibited at the ROM in Toronto and in Thessaloniki.
- Piers Handling named Festival Director and CEO
- Festival name is changed to current Toronto International Film Festival
- The organization renamed itself the Toronto International Film Festival Group, becoming the umbrella organization of the Festival
- TIFF assumes management of Film Circuit
- Piers Handling is bestowed the insignia of Chevalier des Arts et Lettres.
- Sprockets (now TIFF Kids International Film Festival) is launched, headed by Jane Schoettle
- Talk Cinema (now Reel Talk), Sunday morning preview and discussion series, begins.
- TIFF commissions 10 celebrated filmmakers to make short films inspired by the Festival.
- PITCH THIS! event for emerging filmmakers launched as part of Industry Programming at Festival
- Film Circuit is recipient of the Peter F. Drucker Award for Canadian Nonprofit Innovation presented by the Peter F. Drucker Canadian Foundation
- James Quandt, Senior Programmer for Cinematheque Ontario (now TIFF Cinematheque) given Special Citation from the National Society of Film Critics (USA) for outstanding work on Robert Bresson retrospective and high standard of writing
- Canada's Top Ten launched
- Special Delivery is launched, reaching out to youth in under-served areas of the GTA who may not otherwise have access to the festival experience.
- TIFF unveils plans for TIFF Bell Lightbox.
- Noah Cowan appointed as Co-Director of the Toronto International Film Festival
- Piers Handling receives the CEO of the year award from the Canadian Public Relations Society
- Festival launches Talent Lab, an industry initiative for Canadian filmmakers.
- TIFF Kids Globetrotter Series is created.
- Student Film Showcase is established, a showcase of diverse and exciting range of emerging student work.
- TIFF launches the industry initiatives office for Canadian filmmakers.
- Toronto International Film Festival celebrates its 30th anniversary.
- TIFF Kids celebrates 10th anniversary.
- Construction officially begins on TIFF Bell Lightbox.
- TIFF establishes REEL COMFORT, reaching out to patients in the Mental Health/Psychiatric Units at Toronto General Hospital and St. Michael’s Hospital.
- Cameron Bailey appointed Co-Director of the Toronto International Film Festival
- Noah Cowan appointed as Artistic Director for TIFF Bell Lightbox.
- The John VanDuzer Children's Film Collection is launched, providing teachers with the unique opportunity to rent and screen engaging, fun and educational films not otherwise available in Canada.
- TIFF Cinematheque presents In the Realm of Oshima: The Films of Japanese Master Nagisa Oshima, the first major Oshima retrospective in North America in 20 years, which goes on to tour key cultural institutions in a dozen cities including the Walker Art Center (Minneapolis) and the Harvard Film Archive (Cambridge).
- Michèle Maheux appointed Executive Director and Chief Operating Officer (formally Director of Communications and Marketing, 1990–1998, and Managing Director, 1998–2008)
- Film Circuit celebrates its 15th anniversary with TIFF.
- TIFFG is renamed TIFF as the umbrella organization.
- As part of the organization's celebration of the City of Toronto's 175th anniversary, TIFF publishes Toronto on Film.
- TIFF Bell Lightbox opens at the corner of King and John streets in Toronto.
- Toronto International Film Festival celebrates 35th anniversary
- TIFF Cinematheque and the Film Reference Library celebrate 20th anniversary
- TIFF launches Tim Burton exhibition, the first exhibition at TIFF Bell Lightbox.
- TIFF celebrates the 10th anniversary of Canada's Top Ten
- Mary Pickford and the Invention of the Movie Star is the inaugural exhibition in the Canadian Film Gallery.
- TIFF presents two major exhibitions: Fellini: Spectacular Obsessions and Grace Kelly: From Movie Star to Princess
- Sprockets is renamed TIFF Kids International Film Festival.
- TIFF launches the TIFF Next Wave Film Festival.
- TIFF presents three major, world-class exhibitions: Home On Native Land, X-Men Master: Gordon Smith and Designing 007: Fifty Years of Bond Style.
- TIFF Cinematheque presents a major retrospective on Robert Bresson — which tours key cultural institutions in over a dozen cities in North America and is accompanied by the launch of the anthology Robert Bresson (Revised) by James Quandt.