In February, the Toronto International Film Festival named Thom Powers its new international documentary programmer. Powers, who is also co-founder and head of Sugar Pictures in New York, couldn’t be happier. ‘This is a dream job,’ he says. ‘I’ve been going to TIFF for 17 years – even before I was working in film myself.’ He is particularly excited that the job will allow him to ‘keep an eye on what’s happening in every corner of the globe.’ Powers replaces Sean Farnel, now director of programming at the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival.
Powers has a background in journalism and comic book publishing. Twelve years ago, he met filmmaker Meema Spadola. They collaborated on Breasts, a film that covers puberty, motherhood, sex, cancer and aging. It became Cinemax’s highest-rated documentary. They founded Sugar Pictures shortly thereafter, in 1995. Subsequent film credits include Loving & Cheating, about monogamy and infidelity, and Guns & Mothers, a portrait of women on either side of the gun control debate. Powers is also writing a history of documentary film, and teaches filmmaking at New York University. (He will put his own filmmaking on hold for his tenure at TIFF.)
TIFF’s new hire may raise eyebrows in Canada since he’s a US citizen based in New York, programming a Canadian event. ‘I’d like to think an international festival benefits from spreading its roots out internationally,’ says Powers. ‘And for the purposes of being able to keep contact with international documentary makers, it’s hard to beat New York as a hub.’