TORONTO - As the 35th Toronto International Film Festival kicks into high gear this weekend, it will also be celebrating a shiny new home.

The TIFF Bell Lightbox opens Sunday with a free block party and will operate 365 days a year with screenings, exhibitions, programs, lectures and concerts.

Officials say it's unlike any other film festival venue around the world.

"In general, film festivals love having their 10-day events and don't have an ongoing institution to support them nor do they have the ongoing activities that we do and the ongoing programming that TIFF supports," says Noah Cowan, artistic director of TIFF Bell Lightbox.

"The only analogue really to what we do is in London. The British Film Institute has a structure on South Bank of the Thames and they run the London Film Festival; very different institution, though -- no exhibition gallery, and its principal function is as an archive of British movie-image culture."

For more than three decades, TIFF offices have been housed at various locations around the city, as have the festival's year-round programs.

The plan to build the Lightbox was hatched 10 years ago. Funding for the nearly $200 million building has come from corporations, including founding sponsor Bell, as well as city, provincial and federal governments, various foundations and private donors.

The land, worth more than $22 million, was donated by the famed Reitman family -- led by acclaimed filmmaker Ivan Reitman -- and the Daniels Corporation, who together form the King and John Festival Corporation.

Toronto-based architecture firm KPMB designed the five-storey Lightbox, which takes up a downtown city block at the corner of King and John streets that was recently named Reitman Square.

The airy, glass-fronted structure includes two galleries, learning studios for students, TIFF staff offices, a bistro, a restaurant, a lounge and five public cinemas.

A Douglas Fir canopy stretches along the facade of the building's main entrance, which also serves as the red-carpet area. The world premiere of Bruce McDonald's rock 'n' roll romp "Trigger" will be the building's inaugural red carpet on Sunday.

The red-carpet vibe is carried inside by a crimson, glowing staircase in the bright, three-storey atrium, which also has a huge white wall on which a projector can screen films or lectures, as well as a box office, customer service and lounge.

Also visible from the atrium -- as well as from various vantage points throughout the building -- is "Master Control," a big, orange, windowed box that's suspended from the ceiling and houses the building's broadcast controls.

Cowan says the goal with Lightbox is to extend TIFF's reach of cinema, which it has previously done with initiatives including TIFF Cinematheque, the Film Reference Library, the Film Circuit and the Sprockets International Film Festival for Children.

"The building allows us to place all those activities under one roof and engage in a bunch of new ones that we think will even further the cause of people loving cinema and engaging in culture on a deeper level."

When Lightbox opens to the public on Sunday, patrons will see the Essential Cinema exhibition, which is inspired by a list of top 100 films picked by TIFF experts and audience votes.

The show includes four newly commissioned media artworks, two of which come from filmmakers Guy Maddin and Atom Egoyan.

Throughout the fall, Lightbox will host a series of film discussions with stars including director David Cronenberg and actress Isabella Rossellini.

And in November, filmmaker Tim Burton will bring to Lightbox his exhibition of drawings, sculptures, maquettes, videos and sculptural commissions that have been a smash at New York's Museum of Modern Art.

With such national and international representation, Cowan expects Lightbox will become "a huge tourist attraction."

"TIFF has had this long history of trying to reach out past the borders of Toronto to talk about the importance of art film, to try to connect Canadians together about their own national cinema," he says.

"We're in fact in conversations with many friends in places like Vancouver, in Calgary, in Edmonton, in Winnipeg ... Halifax and Montreal, to actually engage in cross-national activities and commissioning projects to really bring the film and moving-image visual arts projects to the fore."