In Hollywood, the Toronto International Film Festival, or "TIFF," is known as the unofficial start of Oscar-campaigning season. This year's TIFF, which kicks off on Thursday night with the world premier of Rian Johnson's sci-fi thriller "Looper," features at least five movies widely considered to be early front-runners in the race for Best Picture: Paul Thomas Anderson's "The Master," Ben Affleck's "Argo," Joe Wright's "Anna Karenina," the Wachowski siblings' "Cloud Atlas" and Michael Haneke's "Amour."
Being a big Oscar maven might seem to be a likely prerequisite for the job of picking the movies that compete in Tiff's "Gala" category, reserved for high-budget star vehicles that most often win Oscars. But Cameron Bailey, who was named the festival's sole artistic director in 2012 after co-directing TIFF for three years, said he knows almost nothing about what makes a movie Oscar-worthy.
"I am just a disaster at Oscar predictions," he told The Huffington Post. "I have never won an Oscar pool in my life."
Bailey admitted that Oscar hopes might be on the minds of the studio executives who submit their movies for inclusion in the festival. But even if they are, they certainly aren't on the executives' lips.
"People can get very superstitious about Oscar stuff," Bailey said. "So they never come right out and say, we're hoping for Oscars. Nobody is prescient enough to say that the Oscar campaign for this movie starts here in Toronto ... it is a long road between September and February."
Yet the fact remains that many movies that do well at Toronto end up getting nominated for (and winning) Academy Awards. Bailey dismissed the idea that he has any particular Midas touch when it comes to those movies -- but he allowed that the selection process for Gala movies is long and rigorous. It involves collaboration between 17 different programmers who roam the world looking for good movies.
"We are in touch with literally hundreds of different companies all year, from major studios to smaller production companies, to see what movies they have coming out," Bailey said. "So I'm already tracking what movies Warner Bros. will be releasing around the time of the festival next year, for example."
Since becoming artistic director for TIFF, Bailey has also tried to reach out to companies and filmmakers outside the traditional Toronto aegis of big Hollywood studios. That effort has led to the inclusion of more international movies than ever before -- directors with movies in TIFF 2012 come from 72 countries, up from 65 in the 2011 festival. Bailey attributed the international emphasis to his personal experience emigrating to Canada after brief stints in England and Barbados in early childhood and to the diversity of the city of Toronto.
"We're in a big city where you have hundreds of different cultures all on top of each other," he said. "I wanted our festival to feel like it represented the flavor of Toronto."
Bailey said he was proud that TIFF featured an unusual number of movies with female directors. Six of the 20 Gala films were directed by women, especially striking in light of the fact that none of the movies that competed at this year's Cannes Film Festival had female directors. Yet Bailey said that this, too, was partially unintentional.
"We know going in that we have to make sure we have a balanced program that represents lots of different voices, including female filmmakers -- that's really important to us. And then at the end, we try to measure how we did," he said. "But I think as we're watching films, we're not thinking, 'Is this by a woman? Is this by a man?' We don't decide on that basis -- and I think that's really the healthiest way to do it."