TIFF renames its largest cinema: Viola Desmond Cinema

media release

November 8, 2022

TIFF renames its largest cinema: Viola Desmond Cinema

TIFF pays tribute to Viola Desmond’s legacy and her sister Wanda Robson’s advocacy with launch of a $2 million multi-year fundraising campaign to support and champion Black Women Creators and to remove audience barriers to access

TIFF CEO Cameron Bailey with guests

Photo credit: George Pimentel

TORONTO — Today, on Viola Desmond Day, CEO Cameron Bailey announced TIFF’s commitment to rename TIFF Bell Lightbox’s largest cinema the Viola Desmond Cinema, alongside a $2 million fundraising campaign to champion Black women creators and to remove audience barriers to access, in commemoration of the groundbreaking human rights and social justice legacy made by Viola Desmond and her sister Wanda Robson. Robson and Desmond’s family members were in attendance at a special evening tonight recognizing the sisters’ impact.

The official reveal of the cinema will take place in 2023, and in anticipation of the unveiling, TIFF marked Viola Desmond Day with the appointment of two front row seats, side by side in Cinema 1, dedicated to Viola and Wanda. These seats will remind all who enjoy the Festival and TIFF’s year-round programming of the courageous and revolutionary stand Viola took that day in 1946 at the Roseland Theatre in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia, and the dedicated efforts Wanda led over many years to share her sister’s story.

In addition to the renaming of Cinema 1 and as part of TIFF’s Every Story fund, Bailey also announced TIFF would further honour Viola and Wanda’s legacy by pledging to raise $2 million over five years to showcase and support Black women creators, enhance programming developed in collaboration with community partners for Black audiences, and to continue amplifying Viola and Wanda’s stories. This multi-year fundraising campaign was kicked off with a founding gift from TIFF Board member, philanthropist, and community leader Donette Chin-Loy Chang, and marks a renewed commitment from TIFF to champion storytelling by Black women creators, both year-round and at the Festival, to honour Black stories, and to recognize the importance of representation for and by its audience members.

"I can never forget that Viola Desmond's act of resistance to racism in Canada took place in a movie theatre," said Bailey. "By launching the Viola Desmond campaign through our Every Story Fund, TIFF will work with donors and community partners to make our own theatres more inclusive and welcoming, and to increase our support for Black women screen creators. I believe the communion that happens in a movie theatre belongs to everyone. This initiative is our way of growing that connection as we honour the legacy of Desmond and her sister Wanda Robson, who worked for years to bring Desmond's story to us all."

The evening’s Viola Desmond Day celebrations at TIFF Bell Lightbox continued with a screening of Kelly Fyffe-Marshall’s debut feature, When Morning Comes, which premiered at TIFF 2022, preceded by a conversation about legacy and the future of Black creators in the industry with representatives from presenting partner organizations, featuring: Joan Jenkinson, Black Screen Office; Ella Cooper, Black Women Film! Canada; Alison Duke, OYA Black Arts Coalition; and Ngardy Conteh George, OYA Black Arts Coalition. Guests also enjoyed public artist activations, programmed in partnership with Black Artists’ Networks in Dialogue (BAND) and Vintage Black Canada.

The artist activations will remain open to the public and free of charge in the TIFF Bell Lightbox Atrium until November 27 during regular box office hours, Tuesday 3pm–10pm, Wednesday through Sunday 10am–10pm. BAND presents artwork by Black emerging artists whose practices engage themes of immigration, identity, and community. Vintage Black Canada presents a photo activation that spotlights the everyday stories, sacrifices, and hopes of Black families. Rooted in creativity and togetherness, both projects celebrate Black life in Canada and the stories of vulnerability and strength that make up our communities. Additional information on the Black Artists’ Networks in Dialogue (BAND) and Vintage Black Canada exhibition is available at Viola Desmond Day: Art Activations by Black Artists' Networks in Dialogue (BAND) and Vintage Black Canada.

History of Viola Desmond and Wanda Robson’s impact On this day in 1946, while on a business trip and waiting for her car to be fixed nearby, Viola Desmond, a successful entrepreneur from Halifax, decided to watch a film at the Roseland Theatre in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia. Desmond, who had eyesight issues, took a floor seat in order to be closer to the screen. At that time, racist practices were often undertaken by businesses, and it was common understanding among the theatre’s staff that Black patrons were sold tickets to the balcony, and white patrons were sold tickets on the floor. When asked to leave her seat, Desmond refused. She was arrested, jailed overnight, and convicted of an obscure tax offence, masking the racism behind the theatre’s policy. Despite her own tremendous efforts and those of Nova Scotia’s Black community to assist in her conviction appeal, Desmond was unable to remove the charge against her, and she went unpardoned in her lifetime. She passed away only 19 years later, her bravery and the importance of her protest at the Roseland Theatre unacknowledged and underappreciated. Wanda Robson, Desmond’s youngest sister and an activist in her own right, began to tell her sister’s story in the 2000s. On April 15, 2010, Viola Desmond was granted a free pardon by the government of Nova Scotia, along with a public declaration and apology recognizing that her conviction was a miscarriage of justice and that the charges should never have been laid. In 2018, Desmond’s legacy was commemorated on the $10 bill.

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About TIFF
TIFF is a not-for-profit cultural organization whose mission is to transform the way people see the world through film. An international leader in film culture, TIFF projects include the annual Toronto International Film Festival in September; TIFF Bell Lightbox, which features five cinemas, major exhibitions, and learning and entertainment facilities; and innovative national distribution program Film Circuit. The organization generates an annual economic impact of $189 million CAD. TIFF Bell Lightbox is generously supported by contributors including Founding Sponsor Bell, the Province of Ontario, the Government of Canada, the City of Toronto, the Reitman family (Ivan Reitman, Agi Mandel and Susan Michaels), The Daniels Corporation and RBC. For more information, visit tiff.net.

TIFF is generously supported by Lead Sponsor Bell, Major Sponsors RBC, Visa and BVLGARI, and Major Supporters the Government of Canada, Government of Ontario and City of Toronto.

Every Story is supported by fund Founding Partner, NBCUniversal

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