A long farewell to Michèle Maheux, unsung hero of the Toronto International Film Festival

Maheux resists the spotlight, which may seem at odds with her efforts to promote and mentor women both within and outside the organization.

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Michele Maheux has been instrumental behind the scenes at TIFF for 30 years. (RENE JOHNSTON / TORONTO STAR)

It took me a long time to set up an interview with Michèle Maheux, the unsung hero of the Toronto International Film Festival.

Weeks, if you count from early August, when Maheux quietly announced plans to step down as TIFF’s executive director and chief operating officer, a phased retirement beginning Nov. 1.

Years, if you count the many previous times I’ve tried to get her to talk about her behind-the-scenes work supporting TIFF director/CEO Piers Handling, her longtime friend and colleague who is also stepping down from his top post at the festival. They’re being succeeded by artistic director Cameron Bailey and incoming executive director Joana Vicente, TIFF’s new “co-heads.” Maheux will remain until summer 2019 to assist with the transition, making it 30 years for her with the festival.

Maheux resists the spotlight, which may seem at odds with her efforts to promote and mentor women both within and outside the organization.

But she came to TIFF from the world of public relations, including a stint at Cineplex working for the voluble Garth Drabinsky, and she learned that the coaching and team-building skills she possesses, which she proudly calls her “superpowers,” don’t always require a megaphone.

“People have told me that I should be out front more often,” says Maheux, as we converse in the small lounge area of her open-air office at TIFF Bell Lightbox festival headquarters, near rows of desks occupied by many of the young festival employees she has helped mentor.

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