08/25/2011 01:44 EDT | Updated 10/25/2011 05:12 EDT

Lunch With... TIFF Bell Lightbox Artistic Director Noah Cowan


The company:

Noah Cowan is the artistic director of TIFF Bell Lightbox, the incredible new facility at King and John Streets in downtown Toronto. He drives the curatorial vision for the year-round programming. Noah has been a part of TIFF for a long time with his first venture being curator of the Midnight Madness program at the festival in 1989 -- a program I know has always been popular with my friends. Noah also had some incredible ventures outside of TIFF In 1993 he launched Cowboy Pictures, a pioneering distributor devoted to the art of cinema, and in 2002 he founded the Global Film Initiative in New York City, a not-for-profit organization devoted to understanding the world through film. He returned to TIFF in 2003 as the co-director of the Toronto International Film Festival until January 2007, when he took over his current role.

The food:

We ate at a French bistro right across from the TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto. Noah had the quiche lorraine with side salad and frites. I had the ratatouille provençal. My meal was really tasty and had a lot of cheese, which I loved! Noah had a ginger ale and I drank water. After our meal, Noah had a tea and I had a coffee. Total bill was $33 with tax.

The lunch lesson:

Noah talked about some of the programs they have at TIFF Bell Lightbox aimed at young people, high school and college/university students. Noah wants TIFF Bell Lightbox to be a comfortable place for young people to come, learn and appreciate art and culture. We talked about how museums are really appealing to kids and then an interest that is picked back up later, perhaps in late-20s, early 30s. But there is a good 10 to 15 years when young people aren't particularly interested in going to a museum.

TIFF Bell Lightbox is the perfect solution. It's ever evolving and has art from the past and present. It's a great place to be absorbed in culture. Noah told me that when Tim Burton was in town for his exhibition, he took time to meet with young people and even asked them to bring in their animation projects, which he viewed and provided feedback on. Can you imagine being a teenager who is passionate about animation and filmmaking and getting advice from Tim Burton? It's so incredible. And Noah said that Tim Burton was really in his element with the young people and this type of experience is exactly what he wants TIFF Bell Lightbox to be.

The lunch:

The TIFF Bell Lightbox is relatively new and I haven't had the chance to discover everything that it entails, so it was great to get the chance to hear from the artistic director himself. With the Toronto International Film Festival fast approaching, it's about to be a very busy place.

The TIFF Bell Lightbox is a five-storey complex with a public atrium, five public cinemas, two galleries, three learning studios, a centre for students and scholars, the O&B Canteen, Luma Restaurant and a lounge. And there really is something for everyone and I think that's what I really liked the most when Noah was explaining it all to me.

I asked Noah if this would have been a dream job when he was a kid picturing what he wanted to do when he grew up. He said he has always loved movies and if his childhood self saw him now, he would think it was pretty cool. Noah, it seems, has always worked in the film industry somehow, even being a movie critic for Eye Weekly.

I had to find out his favourite movie. He named two. He said that he can judge people based on their thoughts on these two films so it was very embarrassing for me to have not seen either of them. Well, I am definitely going to check them out now. They are The Towering Inferno and The Palm Beach Story. My favourite movie is Rushmore and I totally judge people by whether they think it's funny or not. (Noah thinks it's very funny.)

We also chatted on what, or more precisely who, drives people to check out movies. Is it still the movie star? Or is it more the director? Noah spoke of the "big five" -- writer, director, producer, editor and cinematographer -- as the people that really shape a movie. The actors come in later in the process. He also said how actors are unlikely to always consistently be in stellar movies, whereas if there is a director you really enjoy, it's likely you will enjoy all of their films. Something to think about when you're trying to decide what movie to check out this weekend.

I used to work at a restaurant across from the TIFF Bell Lightbox and at that time, it was a parking lot. Unlike a lot of other Torontonians, I am a big fan of a lot of the downtown condo builds because I like the urban density and having such a livable and lively downtown. But I did love to see that this parking lot was made into a cultural hub, a place for all of Toronto to enjoy. You should all check it out!