By William Wolf


Those who create an event that grows enormously through the years often don’t get the credit they deserve. New people take over, another generation lacks memory and times bypass the early visionaries. It was therefore gratifying that at the opening night gala, the three founders of the Toronto International Festival were honored on the occasion of the Festival’s 35th year.

Tribute was paid William Marshall, Dusty Cohl and Henk Van der Kolk, who sat around at the Cannes Film Festival 36 years ago and thought wouldn’t it be nice if Toronto also had a Film Festival. And they proceeded to organize it for an opening a year later. I know, because I was there at Cannes and invited by them to come to Toronto and act as host to a series of craft conferences. I was invited back for that purpose a second year.

At the gala Marshall and Van der Kolk were summoned to the platform, along with Joan Cohl, the widow of Dusty Cohl, who died two years ago. Marshall, in his customary wry manner, noted that “Sometimes in life one gets it right.” Van der Kolk told of some of the early challenges. Cohl didn’t address the crowd, but her presence was important, as her husband had long been a colorful figure at the ensuing Festivals as an industrious worker behind the scenes to keep things rolling. He liked to refer to himself with the title “Accomplice.”

Piers Handling, Director and Chief Executive Officer of the Festival, told the crowd that without Marshall, Van der Kolk and Cohl, there would not be a Festival at all and not in its current form. The initial vision, which was scoffed at in much of the Toronto press at the time, turned out to have a result even greater than the founders could have anticipated.

In the beginning it was difficult to get cooperation of the major Hollywood studios, but it didn’t take long for them to catch on, and through the years cooperation has grown to the point where the Festival is regarded as an important showcase for Oscar hopefuls. It has also turned into a major marketplace.

I join in a personal salute to the founders, who became my friends. It was a joy to see them get the recognition they deserve and for a new generation of Festival-goers to be reminded of their important contribution to Toronto and the world of cinema.


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