Why The TIFF Bell Lightbox is Simply Amazing

Over the weekend, I got a chance to visit a place I’m convinced is a true haven for film buffs. It’s called the TIFF Bell Lightbox, a movie theatre/museum/gallery in downtown Toronto (King St. West, to be exact). The Lightbox is a brand-new building designed to host all sorts of movie-themed events, whether they are red-carpet screenings at the Toronto International Film Festival (the festival the facility is named after), special talks by filmmakers, or film-related gallery shows.

It’s basically my new favourite place in Toronto, and I’d like to tell you all about it – not only so I give you a tour of the building, but to explain why we need more places like the Lightbox in other cities.

My experience at the TIFF Bell Lightbox was exciting enough that the movie I happened to see there, Eco Pirate: The Story of Paul Watson, was almost like an afterthought (UPDATE: Check out my review of the film here). The facility is clean, modern and spacious, and the ground floor is laid out much like an art gallery or museum, with changing exhibits and displays based around the various film-themed events held throughout the year. For example, the Lightbox is currently running a retrospective on Italian director Federico Fellini, with double-bill film screenings and guest speakers, all in an effort to explore how Fellini was obsessed with scandal, excess and spectacle.

Patrons can choose from a selection of daily screenings, and combine them into packages with talks or shows to create a custom Lightbox visit. If you become a member of TIFF, you get discounts on tickets and other benefits, including first dibs on ticket releases for the Toronto International Film Festival. If I ever end up living full-time in Toronto, I’m definitely going to take advantage of that, just so I can attend a few red-carpet premieres.

I should make clear that the TIFF Bell Lightbox is not your average Cineplex or Empire Theatres. There’s a pervasive feeling that this is a place you visit to see artful, provocative movies - flicks that wouldn’t screen in a typical multiplex. It’s a great opportunity to see that gritty documentary or classic 70mm film that you saw advertised but couldn’t find elsewhere.

I’ve unconsciously wanted a building like this for years, after viewing tons of trailers for limited-run movies that just don’t make it into “mainstream” venues (I’m not a hipster, I’m not, I’m not, I’m not!).  I don’t even care if you think the Lightbox sounds pretentious (actually, read this article first) – it’s simply a must-visit destination for anyone who likes movies.

Much like an art gallery, there’s more than one option for refreshments. There’s a casual café on the ground floor, a more upscale restaurant on the second, and a standard concessions area. Even the concessions counter takes it up a notch: they offer good coffee and a variety of pastries, along with popcorn, candy and soft drinks. The employees are friendly, knowledgeable and wear a dressier style of uniform (black pants and white buttoned shirts), a detail which adds to the overall professional atmosphere of the facility.

Tickets aren’t expensive, either: just $12.00 CAN for a regular admission. It’s the sort of place you’d want to have as your neighbourhood theatre – sure, you’d go to a regular multiplex for all the wide-release titles you want to see, but you’d keep coming back to the Lightbox for their fresh approach and unique programming. The diversity of the venue also got me thinking: A lot of people (particularly women) might argue that a movie is not the sort of thing you’d do for a first date. But if that first date happened at the Lightbox, it could be a dinner, an art show, a guest speaker and a classy movie rolled into one – pretty special, no?

Once you’ve taken in a movie or two, there’s even a gift shop! Normally I wouldn’t get excited about this, but they have a fabulous collection of posters, memorabilia and books for sale, most of them quirky or original products that, again, are difficult to find anywhere else.

As I hinted at the beginning of the article, I believe more facilities like the Lightbox should be built. The experience of most moviegoers is to head to the movies, only to have to decide from the 10 or 12 films running at the local multiplex, 80-90% of which are likely not worth seeing. With more Lightboxes or similar locations, there would be at least one more option for people interested in seeing something a little bit different from the typical Hollywood fare.

What gets me really excited is how the Lightbox adds on all these other events, like a collection of sketches by Tim Burton when he was planning out Corpse Bride or a video-art exhibition from the Goethe-Institut. It shows that the people running the Lightbox want to celebrate film in all its permutations and connected media. It encourages visitors to take more of an interest in the way films are made – one of the driving forces behind this blog, as a matter of fact.

I hope this post hasn't come across as a colossal advertisement for the Lightbox. If that’s the case, I apologize, but it’s only because the Lightbox made such a huge impression on me that I felt compelled to encourage other people to check it out (For more info, visit the official site or go to this Google Map). If you live anywhere near Toronto or are planning a trip here soon, the Lightbox is open year-round, seven days a week. Odds are you’ll catch me there, because I won’t ever want to leave.


Have I enticed you to check out the TIFF Bell Lightbox? Or does it seem to fly a bit over your head? Whatever your thoughts, post them in the comments section! If you know someone who might like this article, or anything on Professionally Incoherent, make use of the sharing buttons below to spread the word. If you’d like to check out more of my film-related articles, follow the links below:

Why Cars 2 didn’t quite connect

 J.K. Rowling’s Pottermore announcement was a magical letdown

What is an underrated film, really?