TORONTO – A group of Canadian filmmakers, along with Hollywood A-listers, has called on the Toronto International Film Festival to end sponsorship ties with the Royal Bank of Canada because of the financial institution’s funding of the oil and gas industry.
Organizers of the campaign, called RBC Off Screen, say the bank’s track record of investing in fossil fuels runs contrary to the socially progressive values the film festival wants to stand for.
Signatories to the group’s open letter to TIFF outlining their concerns include screen stars Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams and Joaquin Phoenix as well as filmmakers and producers including Avi Lewis, Elza Kephart and Jose Luis Gutierrez.
Kephart and Gutierrez launched the campaign, which they say is supported by more than 200 entertainment industry workers. The group’s statement said RBC is one of the largest financiers of oil and gas projects in the world and supports projects that have negatively impacted indigenous lands and BIPOC groups.
Judy Lung, TIFF’s vice president of public relations, said in a statement that the festival values the sustainability concerns being brought forward and that they are talking to RBC about them.
RBC spokeswoman Stephanie Bannan said in a statement that more action is needed on climate change and that the company welcomes the opportunity to discuss the issues with Indigenous groups and the film community.
“When it comes to climate change, we strongly believe that more action is needed, and faster, to tackle it. We are actively engaging with our customers and partners to identify opportunities to do more to meet shared objectives,” Bannan said.
“We are also working to engage with indigenous communities in collectively pursuing reconciliation. “We appreciate the concern expressed by members of the film community about our climate and would welcome the opportunity to dialogue.”
Climate activist and campaign spokesperson Luis Ramirez says TIFF’s association with RBC does not match its efforts to fund, assist, and promote BIPOC creatives over the years.
It’s great if organizations are giving grants to black filmmakers, Ramirez said, but if that money is tied to starting gas plants in black communities, for example, “then there’s a problem.”
“Many film organizations like TIFF have excellent climate programs. But these climate programs stop at really questioning the slightly bigger picture – where does the money come from? That’s exactly what shortsightedness happens when it comes to corporate associations. “
Nadia Louis-Desmarchas, co-director of “Black Lives: Untold Stories,” said that in the interest of social change, it was important for her to sign the letter.
“When I realized this was something that needed to be done right now – as a filmmaker, if I can have a little bit of a part in it, sure, I’m going to help,” Lewis-Desmarchais. said Tuesday at the red-carpet premiere of the documentary series, which will air on CBC in October.
“I think it’s important that we stick together right now.”
RBC, Bulgari and Visa are among the major sponsors of TIFF.
Last month, it was announced that major sponsor Bell would end its decades-long partnership with the festival at the end of the year.
CEO Cameron Bailey said in a previous interview with The Canadian Press that the organization is ultimately looking for a replacement to bear its name on TIFF’s downtown headquarters, currently known as the TIFF Bell Lightbox.
Last year, sponsors contributed about $13.4 million to TIFF, 28 percent of its total revenue.
-With files from William Eltherington
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 12, 2023
Noel Ransom, The Canadian Press