Filmmakers call on TIFF to end RBC’s sponsorship

Just weeks after it was revealed long-time lead sponsor Bell would ends its support of TIFF, the world-famous festival is now facing pressure from filmmakers to part ways with another top sponsor, RBC.

A Sept. 6 letter to TIFF CEO Cameron Bailey, now signed by more than 200 people working in film—from directors and actors (like Mark Ruffalo) to set designers and grips—says RBC is not a suitable sponsor for TIFF, calling the bank “one of the most polluting companies in our country” and a “world-leading enabler of fossil fuel extraction.”

They also denounced the bank for supporting projects that fail to respect fundamental rights of Indigenous and BIPOC organizations.

“We therefore ask TIFF to discontinue its relationship with RBC for the 2024 edition of the festival,” they wrote.

RBC is one of three second tier “major sponsors” of the festival, along with Visa and Bulgari, and below only the departing Bell as lead sponsor.

“With 100+ corporate sponsors and $45m in revenue, TIFF is well positioned to replace RBC’s estimated 1m per year and find less harmful sponsors, even with Bell relinquishing its leading sponsorship,” reads the letter.

“In fact, with such changes in sponsorship structure already on the books, there is an opportunity to move beyond fossil fuel money.”

The $1-million estimate comes from a 2008 Globe & Mail news story about RBC committing to a 10-year sponsorship. Citing unnamed sources, the paper reported RBC would spend at least $11 million for that deal.

While TIFF did not respond to requests for comment about the letter, RBC provided a statement to The Message late Friday afternoon.

“When it comes to climate change, we strongly believe that more action and at a faster pace is needed to address it,” it said. “We are actively engaging with our clients and partners to identify opportunities to do more in delivering on shared objectives.

“We are also working to engage with Indigenous communities in collectively advancing reconciliation. We appreciate the concern for our climate expressed by members of the film community and would welcome the chance for dialogue.”

This is the 16th year as official bank of TIFF for RBC, which says its support helps nurture emerging talent while celebrating the arts community.

“At RBC, we believe in supporting and advancing creative mediums that elevate diverse voices and unique perspectives. The arts bring vibrancy to the communities where we live and work,” said Mary DePaoli, RBC’s executive vice president and chief marketing officer, in an Aug. 30 press release announcing this year’s activations. “Our partnership with TIFF allows us to help bring impactful stories to the big screen, while fulfilling our commitment to supporting the arts and fostering emerging Canadian talent.”

The focal point of RBC’s presence during the festival is RBC House, just steps from TIFF Bell Lightbox.

Among the events being hosted by RBC this year is an opening weekend party (Sept. 8) including a performance by DJ Diesel (Shaquille O’Neal). The Los Angeles Times Studio presents in-person interviews and conversations with directors and stars, though this year’s festival is faced with a distinct lack of star power as most A-listers stay home in support of the ACTRA strike.

RBC House will also host The Black Academy Legacy Kick-Off Party (Sept. 10), in celebration of emerging and established Black Canadian talent, and RBC backs the TIFF Every Story Accelerator, which promotes diversity, inclusion in film by supporting projects from emerging creators who identify as BIPOC, 2SLGBTQ+ and/or are from other equity-deserving groups.

As Etan Vlessing pointed out at The Hollywood Reporter, this is not first time RBC has been targeted for its support of the oil industry. Last March, a number of cinematic heavyweights like Leonardo DiCaprio, Scarlett Johansson, Robert Downey Jr. as well as Ruffalo, signed a petition urging RBC to stop financing the Coastal GasLink pipeline.

David Brown