Bill Marshall Dies: Toronto International Film Festival Co-Founder Was 77

Toronto International Film Festival

Bill Marshall, co-founder of the Toronto International Film Festival, died today, his family announced. He was 77 and suffered a heart attack while in the hospital.


A Scottish immigrant to Canada, Marshall, who was later awarded the Order of Canada, Marshall co-founded TIFF, originally called Toronto Festival of Festivals, in 1976 with Dusty Cohl and Henk Van der Kolk. Though at first avoided by Hollywood, the festival, which changed to its current name in 1994, would emerge as one of the major annual film industry events. Today considered one of the most influential film festivals – if not the most – TIFF is regarded by many as second only to Cannes in terms of international prestige.

“Bill passed away early this morning from a cardiac arrest while in hospital in Toronto, the city where he made such an impact,” said his family in a statement released to the media.

“He immigrated to Canada from Glasgow, Scotland in 1955 and was a proud Canadian and Member of the Order of Canada, an honour he received for his many contributions to the arts.

As much as Bill loved and cherished the arts, he also played a significant role in shaping the political landscape of Toronto, where he served as campaign manager and Chief of Staff for 3 different Toronto Mayors. Bill was a trusted advisor to many senior politicians in Canada and the United States and his legacy continued with his recent support of current Toronto Mayor, John Tory.Bill was a visionary in the Canadian film industry, producing 13 feature films, including the award winning Outrageous, along with hundreds of documentaries. He was an accomplished writer, journalist, novelist and speech writer to royalty and heads of state. He also produced numerous live theatre productions, including the Toronto production of the hit musical Hair.

As an industry leader, Bill was a driving force behind the establishment of numerous industry organizations, including the Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television, The Toronto Film and Television Office, and was past President of the Canadian Association of Motion Picture Producers.

In a very real way Bill was in the business of making dreams become reality and he continued doing so to the very end with several new projects in development. Now, as the house lights dim, friends and family will remember and honour Bill as a first rate raconteur, famous for his honesty, keen mind and wry humour.

Details for a proper send-off are in process and will be communicated once finalized.

The Toronto International Film Festival also paid tribute to Marshall in a statement attributed to Piers Handling, TIFF Director & CEO. “We are deeply saddened by the passing of our friend and TIFF Chair Emeritus Bill Marshall,” the statement read.

“Founder of the Festival of Festivals in 1976 (along with Co-Founders Henk Van der Kolk and Dusty Cohl), Bill was also the organization’s Director in its first three years. He was a pioneer in the Canadian film industry and his vision of creating a public Festival that would bring the world to Toronto through the transformative power of cinema stands today as one of his most significant legacies.

Without his tenacity and dedication, the Toronto International Film Festival would not be among the most influential public cultural festivals today. We were so fortunate to have Bill serve as one of our greatest champions for forty-one years. Our thoughts are with his wife Sari Ruda, his children Lee, Stephen and Shelagh, his six grandchildren and their family and friends.”

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