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Noah Cowan Dies: Former Toronto Film Festival Co-Director, Indie Distributor & SFFILM Exec Was 55

By Erik Pedersen,


Noah Cowan , former co-director of the Toronto Film Festival and executive director of SFFILM in San Francisco, died Wednesday of cancer in Los Angeles, Deadline has confirmed. He was 55.

Cowan died of glioblastoma multiforme, an aggressive form of brain cancer he was diagnosed with in December 2021.

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Born on July 22, 1967, in Hamilton, Ontario, he joined TIFF in 1984 as a box office staffer after volunteering with the fest in summer 1981. He later ran its print traffic department before becoming one of the programmers of TIFF’s Midnight Madness program in 1989. He was promoted to Program Administrator in 1992, and co-ran Midnight Madness with Colin Geddes in 1997.

Cowan served as TIFF’s international programmer from 1997-2001, during which time he was promoted to associate director of programming and then associate director. He left the festival in 2001 but returned three years later as co-director, serving in the role until 2008. From 2008-14, he was artistic director of TIFF Bell Lightbox.

He went on to serve from 2014-19 as executive director of the San Francisco Film Society, the group behind the long-running San Francisco International Film Festival.

After leaving SFFILM, Cowan founded and led Noah Cowan Consulting, specializing in strategic realignment, brand analysis, and program restructuring for film, media, and visual arts organizations. The company’s client roster included the IFC and the Telluride Film Festival.

Earlier in his career, Cowan co-founded Cowboy Pictures, a New York City-based distributor of arthouse fare. In 2002, he launched the Global Film Initiative, a nonprofit organization devoted to worldwide understanding through film. In partnership with the Museum of Modern Art, the org funded, acquired, created and distributed educational material for socially meaningful cinema from the developing world. He left the group in 2004.

Cowan also was a contributing editor to Filmmaker magazine from 1994-2004 and worked as a freelance writer and critic.

He is survived by husband John O’Rourke; parents Nuala FitzGerald Cowan and Edgar Cowan; brothers Brian FitzGerald (Diane) and Tim FitzGerald (Sandi); and several nieces, nephews, cousins and other extended family.

In lieu of a funeral for Cowan, plans for a memorial are expected to be announced soon, Deadline has learned. Donations in Cowan’s memory can be made to MOMA’s Department of Film and TIFF Cinematheque.

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