TORONTO — Piers Handling says he is looking forward to enjoying a luxury he hasn't had in 35 years — a summer break.
The director and CEO of the Toronto International Film Festival still has another year to go before he steps down from his post.
But the long-serving executive says while he has relished his role in leading TIFF, the time has come to step aside.
Handling has been working for the festival since 1982.
He will have been CEO for 24 years by the time he steps down next year.
TIFF's board of directors says it will begin searching for its new CEO in the coming months.
"It's a quarter of a century running an organization. I've loved every single of it," Handling said in an interview on Sunday following the TIFF awards ceremony.
"It's been so demanding. It's taught me so much, matured me as an individual, allowed me to fulfil my dreams. But after that period of time, I just want a little bit of my own life back, my own freedom to do other things.
"I'll be 69 when I step down next year and obviously I'm thinking about other things. I'm a big outdoor person, I want to enjoy summer," Handling added. "Seriously, I have not had a summer for 35 years. You're in dark screening rooms, you're travelling, you're trapped by the festival."
Handling said he was happy to have been able to help establish the TIFF Bell Lightbox, which is a central hub for TIFF programming during the festival and throughout the year.
"I will have had eight years as CEO in the building, too. I wanted to see us in the building and very successful. So, I just felt it was time. It was right for me emotionally, and I think probably it's right for the organization," he said.
"Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri" was the big winner at the TIFF Awards capturing the People's Choice prize at the Toronto International Film Festival. The $30,000 Canada Goose Award for best Canadian feature film went to Robin Aubert's zombie film "Les Affames."
When asked about a potential Canadian contender for the foreign-language film prize at the upcoming Oscars, Handling said he didn't think there was a clear frontrunner.
He suggested one potential candidate could be "Ava," from Iranian-born, Montreal-based Sadaf Foroughi, which captured the Discovery program prize and earned an honourable mention for best Canadian first feature film.
"The film that won the prize today may well be that film," said Handling in reference to "Les Affames."
"(Director) Francois Girard's "Hochelaga" perhaps. We had that here this year," he said of the Montreal historical drama screened during the festival. "But that's a bit of a mystery this year, I think. It will be a surprise for all of us."
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