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Toronto Film Festival founder Cohl is dead

Murray 'Dusty' Cohl, who was the brain behind the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), died in Toronto on Friday of liver cancer at the age of 78.
IANS | By Gurmukh Singh, Toronto
UPDATED ON JAN 12, 2008 02:10 PM IST

Murray `Dusty' Cohl, who was the brain behind the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), died in Toronto on Friday of liver cancer at the age of 78.

Cohl, along with Bill Marshall and Henk van der Kolk, started "The Festival of Festivals", featuring the best films of the year from around the world, in 1976. It later became known as the Toronto International Film Festival.

The world's biggest film show today, TIFF features more than 300 films each year, kicking off the Oscars race and launching many a career.

"Yes, TIFF launches the race for the Oscars because major studios now premier their films in Toronto," well-known Canadian film director Vic Sarin told IANS.

Expressing his shock over Cohl's death, Sarin said, "He should be thanked for bringing the film festival to Canada. It actually launched the show biz in Canada. Today, what gets premiered at TIFF, gets worldwide attention.

"Deepa Mehta's `Water' went to scale great heights because it was premiered in Toronto. Otherwise, I guess it could not have happened. Toronto premiers create such a buzz. There are so many directors and actors whose great careers were launched from TIFF."

Indian-born Sarin, who spent the prime of his life in Toronto and later moved to Vancouver, said before Dusty made TIFF a reality there was virtually no film industry in Canada.

"Only the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) was all that we had...the CBC used to make full-length documentaries and people used to get break there. Yes, there were others who created some docudrama productions. But there was no real film industry.

"It was only after the film festival started that a real film industry grew in Canada. Now TIFF is bigger than Cannes," said Sarin.

Cannes, in fact, was in the inspiration for Dusty Cohl to launch the Toronto Film Festival.

A noted real estate lawyer, he was visiting Cannes in 1964 where he said he was "taken in by action" while drinking on the terrace of his hotel. After a gap of four years, he again visited Cannes and was hooked on the festival while interacting with the directors, producers and actors.

His new passion found expression in the form of the Toronto Film Festival Festival in Sept 1976.

"He was a visionary and he knew this thing would work from Day One when nobody else thought it had a chance in hell. He was the one who saw what a gift this thing would be to the city," said his co-founder Bill Marshall in his tribute to Dusty Cohl.

Toronto Film Festival CEO Pier Handling added, "Thirty-five years ago when these guys had the idea, nobody had a clue in North America what a film festival was. It was European, it was arty. I think Dusty going out with his cowboy hat kind of set that tone."

A quintessentially Torontonian, Cohl was born here in 1929 and went on to become a famous and rich real estate lawyer before turning to the film world.

Today, the 10-day TIFF mega-show spans two dozen locations in downtown Toronto where films are screened and press conferences held.

Next year, the festival will move into its own facility nearing completion in the heart of downtown Toronto.

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