Guy Maddin Remembers Noah Cowan, ‘One of the Great Ambushing Charmers of the Film Business’

The film world is remembering Noah Cowan, the beloved former TIFF leader, festival programmer, visual arts consultant, and SFFILM executive director, who died on January 25 at age 55.

Those filmmakers whose careers he touched and helped shape as former artistic director of TIFF Bell Lightbox, among many other posts, include Guy Maddin. The “My Winnipeg” director has shared words with IndieWire about his fellow Canadian film advocate, who in recent years consulted for organizations like IFC, the Telluride Film Festival, and the Centre for the Moving Image in Edinburgh.

Cowan regularly championed and screened Maddin’s influential avant-garde features in Toronto and San Francisco, throughout which the two maintained a friendship and admiration for one another. Below is Guy Maddin’s message, shared with IndieWire:

“Noah Cowan was one of the great ambushing charmers of the film business. He was a festival director who walked among us at sidewalk level, all the better to have fun with everyone. Long a voracious cinephile and brilliant programmer, he somehow rotated his hemispheres and donned a construction helmet to preside over the construction of the towering Bell Lightbox complex for TIFF, an astonishingly brainy achievement for someone from a film background.

“As a movie consumer, Noah possessed by far the industry’s broadest brow range, from the highest to the lowest. Bless him for that! And he was always quick to giggle or explode in wave upon wave of loud, all-inclusive laughter, sometimes appropriate — and sometimes not so much! That’s what I loved about him. What a force of humanizing warmth he was in the often too sprawling, drafty and chilly festival world. The filmmakers he programmed felt not just welcome but extra-special, recruited into his mischievous schemes as we often were!

“Noah saved my ass too many times to count. He commissioned me and my partners to make the feature film ‘The Green Fog’ for SFIFF in 2017, just when I desperately needed the work. He had already done the same for me with a commission to make film loops for the opening of the Lightbox in 2011. He got me countless speaking gigs and free dinners at star-studded tables!

“If I’ve failed to exploit all my opportunities, it certainly wasn’t dear Noah’s fault. It will always seem like he’s looking out for me. And for the countless other friends he cherished and entertained till the last. He could be so casually disarming, and thoughtful. He knew how to make everyone comfortable around him after his horrifying diagnosis. There was always laughter and love around him in his final months. Profound sadness, too, yes, but somehow that man pulled off the most loving, convivial and wonderful death possible.

“What a life! I love you, Noah!”

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