Barry Avrich reflects on his decades-long personal friendship and professional relationship with Toronto International Film Festival’s executive director and chief operating officer, Michele Maheux.

Michele MaheuxThere are powerful women and there are women who are powerful. Somehow, Michele Maheux is both.

I first met this tornado in a bottle at a TIFF industry panel in the late ’80s. We were both relatively new to the business, full of what Dusty Cohl would call “spunk.” We hated each other immediately. Serendipitously, we were seated side-by-side on those hotel-issue emerald-green chairs as we vociferously debated Canadian content with each other, eclipsing the panel. Our passion was obvious, and the conversation that day ignited a friendship that has endured for the next three decades.

There have been many unforgettable female power players in Hollywood, like industry icons Sherry Lansing and Dawn Steel, but, in my opinion, there are not enough women running showbiz. Michele, however, would break every glass ceiling and go from selling popcorn to leading one of the largest film festivals in the world as TIFF’s executive director and chief operating officer. 

Our adventures together were priceless and I had a front row seat as the head of TIFF’s advertising agency for 16 years and a TIFF board director for 14 years. I watched as Michele brilliantly managed egos, raised money, and helped get a building on track. She also found the time to manage me and my ego as we designed the next great TIFF trailer ad and poster. (How I miss those great TIFF posters!)

Not to be overlooked is Michele’s love for film—each year she pours her passion into the TIFF program, writing about her favourite movies. But perhaps her most admirable asset is her wicked sense of humour; if the walls of the long departed Bistro 990, Avenue Bar, and Prego could talk, they would require a paint job if not new drywall altogether to muffle the giggles. I will always cherish these memories, including that one night that we shut down a small bistro in Cannes with Robin Mirsky and Jan Innes, two of the industry’s other female power players. I could barely get a word in, and I loved it

Barry Avrich is a film director, producer, and author of Moguls, Monsters, and Madmen.
TIFF posters