Noah Cowan was the charismatic and influential former director of Toronto International Film Festival. He died after a long battle with cancer.
Cowan was a well-known and beloved figure on the international film scene. He started as a summer worker at TIFF while still in high school. After leaving TIFF in 2014, he headed up the San Francisco Film Society. He then founded his own consultancy company in 2019.
.Cowan was a former critic and writer. His influence, taste, and guidance were felt in many markets as he co-heads his distribution company Cowboy. He worked closely with directors and producers in Asia, as well as in the UK, where his most recent consulting was in Edinburgh. His presence was most evident in Toronto, where he helped to transform the festival from a festival of films into a major North American film festival.
Born and raised in Hamilton, Ontario by Cowan, he graduated from McGill with an undergraduate degree in philosophy. But film was always in his blood. He volunteered at TIFF when he was 14, and continued programming at the festival – co-founding its Midnight Madness section – through the rest of his education and his early years as a freelance critic (including for Sight & Sound) and contributing editor to Filmmaker magazine. He then co-founded the New York-based Cowboy Pictures with John Vanco, specialising in the distribution of global arthouse cinema at a formative time in many film markets.
Cowan returned full-time to TIFF in 2004 to become co-director of the festival with Piers Handling. He was the festival’s founding artistic director in 2009 when it moved to the Lightbox. He then left in 2014.
A hub for cinema devotees and global filmmakers and dealers, TIFF in those years owed much of its character to Cowan’s warmth and unfailing enthusiasm.
The son of an actress and a publisher, Cowan travelled widely outside his native Canada, and ended up settling in Los Angeles, where he ran Noah Cowan Consulting from 2019 until his death.
Cowan is survived by his husband John O’Rourke; parents Nuala FitzGerald Cowan and Edgar Cowan; brothers Brian FitzGerald (Diane) and Tim FitzGerald (Sandi); nieces and nephews Meagan, Brendan, Garrett, Zoe, and Julie FitzGerald; aunt Betty Boardman; and cousins Patrick Boardman (Glynis) and David Cassidy (Yulia).
Remembrances can be made in the form of contributions to The Museum of Modern Art’s Department of Film and Toronto’s Cinematheque. For questions or information please contact firstname.lastname@example.org or https://www.moma.org/support/
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