The Toronto International Film Festival touted programming full of female directors, writers and industry panels with leading women in Hollywood and beyond, but it’s their use of scantily-clad women at the festival’s opening and closing parties that is gaining attention.
Former TIFF staffer Alison Zimmer posted an open letter to the festival on Facebook with photos of women in tight and revealing purple leotards at the festival’s opening party and of women dressed in cheerleading costumes complete with pom poms at the closing night party.
“They were dressed very scantily,” Sarbjit Kaur, a party guest at the closing night party told The Toronto Star. “It seemed sexist to me that there were no men, and it was kind of a type of entertainment that I don’t see much of anymore at an event like that in 2016. It annoyed me… it just seemed like a backwards thing.”
“What does it say to the women who work for TIFF, the female filmmakers and industry guests and the general public, when they walk into an official TIFF event to see women treated as objects?” Zimmer wrote on Facebook in a post that has been widely shared and commented on. “This was not a sponsor activation, but women hired by TIFF to ‘enhance the event.’ Enhance for who, exactly? For me, this undoes any goodwill from the endless women in film panels, strides towards equity in programming and stated commitments to representation.”
The Festival shared Zimmer’s post on their own Facebook page, thanking her for “voicing her concerns.”
“We appreciate Alison’s comments and will take them into account as we plan TIFF events in the future,” the TIFF post reads. “We’ve also responded to Alison directly and hope to meet soon to hear her thoughts in person. We’re always looking to improve our work culture and our events. We thank Alison for voicing her concern to us.”
Several TIFF staffers, including programmer Magali Simard and Jesse Wente, Director of Film Programmes at Bell Lightbox, commented on Zimmer’s original post indicating that her concerns would be addressed internally.
Cotton Candy Staffing Inc., who supplied the cheerleaders for the closing night event, tell The Toronto Star they were “hired by TIFF to implement their vision to the best of our abilities.” According to the company’s co-owner Nicole Pollack, TIFF wanted to have a prom-themed event, choosing all-women to reflect the majority of high school and NFL cheerleading teams.
“There was never any conversation about gender (with TIFF)… to the best of my recollection,” she says.