TIFF honors Agnes Varda – Liz Braun reports

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The Toronto International Film Festival has unveiled a beautiful new space that honors filmmaker Agnes Varda.

Varda is a sleek new cafe-bar on the third floor of the Bell Lightbox building — TIFF headquarters —and it will open officially in the fall. During TIFF, which runs September 7 – 17 this year, it will be open exclusively to filmmakers and top-tier patrons of the festival, but after the annual celebration of cinema wraps up, all TIFF members will be invited to a special preview of Varda before the cafe-bar opens to the public.

Cameron Bailey, CEO of TIFF, led a small media group through Varda last week and spoke of the French director’s, “endless curiosity about people,” an inspiration in the reimagining of a space where film-lovers will connect.

Visitors to Varda are greeted by a fantastic landscape wall, a digital creation featuring sweeping vistas from various movies; you’ll see the vast wilds of Oregon from Kelly Reichardt’s Meek’s Cutoff, for example. Two glass display cases outside the bar itself offer film-centric mini exhibits; currently, one case has an unexpectedly moving installation on the resilience of film, and the other features the Ramona Flowers costume from Edgar Wright’s Scott Pilgrim vs. The World — a wink to the Toronto setting of the 2010 film, with all its familiar city landmarks, just in time for TIFF.

In the foyer outside Varda there’s a collection of 30 superb vintage posters representing Canadian and International cinema, including an original lithograph from Mary Pickford’s first talking film, Coquette, and a German-language poster for Louise Brooks in Pandora’s Box, both from 1929.

Rosalie Varda, daughter of the filmmaker, has gifted the new lounge with a behind-the-scenes image of Agnes Varda at work on her 1962 French New Wave drama, Cleo From 5 to 7. The picture oversees the elegant cafe-bar, with its marble and brass accents.

Toronto-based creative studio DesignAgency undertook the transformation of the Bell Lightbox third floor into an intimate, welcoming space, overseeing every detail from the acoustic wall panelling and special art to bespoke chairs and a wildly impressive espresso machine.

(The make-over has a practical side: various initiatives, such as the Under-25 Free Pass program, Secret Movie Club, high-profile cultural events and other member perks have boosted TIFF membership in the 18 – 35 demographic. Varda will be a welcome place to gather before and after screenings.)

Agnes Varda was a TIFF regular, bringing new films to the festival some years, while having her best-known movies feted and re-examined in others. She won the People’s Choice Award for Faces Places in 2017; her last movie, Varda By Agnes, was at TIFF 2019, six months after her death.

She was a 2016 recipient of the The TIFF Ebert Director Award, named after film critic Roger Ebert; that award will be given to Spike Lee at the 2023 fest.

The underrated Varda was the only woman filmmaker in the French New Wave, and made her first feature (La Pointe Courte, 1955) before any of her male counterparts had done so.

A new film about her, Viva Varda! from director Pierre-Henri Gibert, will have a North American debut at TIFF this year. Thanks to interviews with her nearest and dearest and the use of hitherto unseen archival material, the film will no doubt shine a new light on her life and work.

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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.