SPOTLIGHT August 2023: Judy Lung, Cinema PR Ace, TIFF Communications Chief

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Build the brand and build the audience for the future: that’s the mission for Judy Lung, the Toronto International Film Festival’s new Vice-President, Public Relations & Communications.

Lung is a 20 year vet of the film and TV industry. She’s worked as a PR and communications executive with some of Canada’s best-known entertainment organizations — and always with the personal goal of helping build a more inclusive and equitable screen industry.

To that end, Lung has served on the board of a mental health advocacy group (Unsinkable) and of BIPOC TV & FILM, an organization committed to increasing representation of Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour in front of and behind the camera. And of the latter, she joined forces with 40 industry groups to help create HireBIPOC, an online database with more than 8000 members created to help change hiring practices and increase opportunities for BIPOC creatives.

But you have to look all that up, because Lung rarely talks about herself. She has perfected the Canadian tendency to hide one’s light under a bushel; who knew, for example, that the disciplined film executive is also a concert pianist and an accomplished singer who has performed at Roy Thomson Hall with the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir?

Lung and TIFF are a perfect fit, given the film fest’s stated mission of diversity and equity in all matters. Among other initiatives, the festival champions the work of female filmmakers and mentors women in the industry through Share Her Journey, ensures a breadth of critical perspectives via Media Inclusion, and creates opportunities for equity-seeking creators and diverse voices in programming and curation through the Every Story Fund.

Describing herself as a storyteller, Lung spoke about her new TIFF role in a recent interview. She is conscious of wanting to make a positive impact on the film industry in general and on Canadian film; she also expressed her desire to mentor the next generation coming up in the industry — in every role. Lung knows the part communications and public relations play in determining who is and isn’t heard, “And I spend a lot of time thinking about how we can all do better.”

Lung lectures at Humber College’s WIFT Media Business Essentials Course

Between the pandemic and now the WGA and SAG-AFTRA strike, TIFF has faced some stiff headwinds in the last few years.

“What are the priorities now? How are we embracing change?” asks Lung. “We’ve lived through and been changed by the pandemic — how are we moving forward? How do we embrace and introduce new ideas and ways of doing things?”

She adds, “I’ve been involved with TIFF in different capacities over the years, and one thing I’ve always admired is that the press office has been a core function of the festival since day one. We refer to it as the Press Office, but we do so much more than work with the press – though that is certainly one of the best parts!.

“Communications as a function has always been a big part of this organization and played a significant role in how they’ve been able to build such a strong brand.”


Piano Prodigy
Lung grew up in the tiny town of Smithville, a community on the Niagara escarpment that’s about a 90 minute drive from Toronto.

“There were no traffic lights in the town until years after I’d moved away at 19 to go to university. But growing up, we did go to Toronto a lot to see my grandparents. And our school trips were always to Toronto.”

There were no other Asian families in Smithville, so that city connection would have been a cultural lifeline. “I always knew I would eventually move to Toronto, even as a child, it never occurred to me that I would stay in this small town.”

Lung’s music-teacher mother ensured she was a classically trained pianist, with lessons that started when Lung was four.

“I do think about how that relates to my leadership mindset. I have always been a perfectionist, which isn’t a surprise, because as a classically trained musician you’re always striving to execute the most perfect version. It’s taken me a while to unlearn that a little bit, in how I work in other ways.”

Movies were not on the horizon in her childhood.

“And not on the list of career options,” Lung said, laughing. “I’m the oldest of three daughters, and a first-generation Canadian, so it was always, ‘You’re going to be a doctor, right? Maybe an engineer. You’ve watched Ali McBeal — you could be a lawyer.’”

She says a media studies course in the last year of high school was her introduction to the world of entertainment.

“They basically taught us how to floor-direct a news show. I loved it. I just thought it was the coolest thing. I’d never thought about the mechanics of it.”

Lung went off to the University of Toronto to study music, but in first year she enrolled in Film 101 as an option and that was it — she never looked back. She wrote about film and interviewed filmmakers for The Varsity, the university’s highly regarded student newspaper, and after graduating with a double major in English Literature and Film, her professional career in storytelling began.


Before moving to TIFF in June, Lung was Director of Communications for Cineplex, Canada’s largest cinema chain.

She was at Cineplex during part of the pandemic, when the idea of any large indoor gathering was off the table and movies were among many industries that suffered badly; it was a particularly difficult period in Toronto, as the city was the most locked-down place in North America during Covid-19.

“It was an interesting opportunity to think about the impact of these closures not just on the industry overall but on communities across the country,” said Lung. ”With almost 200 theatres in Canadian cities, small towns and everything in between, you get a good picture of just how essential the movie going experience is to our way of life.”

“What a relief and a joy that in 2023, she added, people are finally talking confidently about a return to normalcy. She is heartened by the “Barbenheimer” box office phenom and other indications these last few months that everyone wants to go back to the movies. “There are all these box office hits and big stars, getting the message out there that the experience of watching a movie in a theatre cannot be matched at home – and it is working, one movie at a time.”

Festivals such as TIFF, however, are different in their approach and what they can accomplish, Lung added, as they build their audience a little differently. “Same story, different version,” she says. “The memories you create at a festival feel much more specific to me. It isn’t just that I can enjoy a great movie with a group of movie lovers but that I can be in a room with acclaimed filmmakers and performers, witness an historic moment, or find something I didn’t know I was looking for. That’s the very special draw of a festival experience. And I think these kinds of experiences can go a long way in restoring people’s faith in the world and their ideas about art and entertainment overall … People have a heightened experience at a TIFF screening that stays with them and in many cases, changes them.”


Given her recent role at Cineplex, her new job at TIFF, and her experience across production, distribution, and broadcasting, Lung is in a unique position to discuss the future of film.

“Over the last 20-odd years, there have been such dramatic shifts in entertainment, especially in Canada. And then of course the pandemic happened … and I have had a front row seat to all these changes, whether we’re talking Canada and U.S. or globally. The thing that’s stayed with me and that I am continually asking — and I’ve been largely on the PR and comms side, but also marketing and social — is, how are we finding audiences? How are audiences changing? How is our understanding of audiences and who they are made up of changing? And are we adapting fast enough?

“TIFF is a safe and accessible place for all types of movie lovers, not just the cinephiles. Across every genre, with filmmakers from everywhere and every culture, there is something for everyone — it’s magical. ”

The festival has a special kind of energy, and like TIFF CEO Cameron Bailey, Lung believes much of that energy comes from the fact that TIFF is a public festival, the largest public film festival in the world, in fact.

“I often think about when TIFF started introducing fan zones, around Roy Thomson Hall and other red carpet venues, and it was so novel at the time that we were going to start letting people have some access, maybe get an autograph or a selfie. There is now an expectation from many talent that if they do a carpet here, they’ll have time to say hello, maybe pose for some selfies. That wasn’t always the case.”

In just two years, TIFF will turn 50, something Lung refers to as the legacy piece of her work. “That really appealed to me, in terms of what I can do that will be truly meaningful and impactful for the industry in the future. To celebrate and champion a cultural institution that has made such a difference in my personal and professional life is a dream come true.

“Fifty is a big deal. I still have my leather business card holder from the 25th anniversary, which I still use! I absolutely remember receiving it and being so delighted and proud. Who knew I would be here in the organization 25 years later!

“Fifty years is huge. To be able to be part of that was a big draw for me. I look ahead to the next 50 years of showcasing talent and bringing audiences together to experience the unmatched power of film and am just so excited by the possibilities.”


Judy Lung is a mensch and a mentor, always an oasis of calm and meticulous organization in what can be a frenetic industry. She is highly respected by the media and well-known as an ally to the press in Toronto and across Canada, and her appointment at TIFF was cause for celebration among reporters. As she takes her place in the important cultural institution that is the Toronto International Film Festival, it’s time to spread the word outside Canada and introduce Lung to an international audience. — Liz Braun

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Liz Braun

Liz Braun has contributed entertainment stories in print and on radio and TV in Canada for 30 years. She served as film critic for the Toronto Sun and for the Postmedia chain of newspapers.