A drink with the founder of Toronto Urban film Festival


Running a film festival alongside TIFF is no easy feat, but Sharon Switzer’s commuter-driven fest, the Toronto Urban Film Festival, screens one-minute silent films to TTC riders on the screens hanging above subway platforms from September 5 to the 15. We were set to meet for a drink at The Grove on Dundas St. West, but since it was closed, we settled at Yours Truly on Ossington St., one of my favourite spots, which sadly closes on September 30.

The drinks: I chose the Monk’s Cat, which features Old Tom gin, Benedictine, bitters and a healthy serving of verjus made from Niagara pinot noir grapes. The latter is not a common ingredient on a menu, but a surprisingly well-rounded substitute for other acids in cocktails. Switzer, who still has much to prepare for the opening of her festival, chose the Arrete de Fumer, a mix of dry vermouth, Laphroaig single malt scotch, Drambuie, black tea and wormwood bitters. After Yours Truly closes, Bunner’s cocktails will be found at the newly-opened DaiLo on College St.

The festival returns for its eighth year. How has it evolved?

Last year I started a project on the big digital billboard just north of Dundas Square. This year I’m working with Public Studio, who were commissioned to do a series of videos and also show eight-second videos from that same project on the digital billboard. So that’s one exciting thing, because it’s sixty feet, and it’s above ground, so that’s really cool.

Whose idea was it to run TUFF concurrently with TIFF?


Did anybody think you were crazy?

Oh yeah. I have television in my background. My mother started CityTV, then my brother took it over, and was later president of CHUM. I asked him for some advice and he told me I was crazy to compete with TIFF. It’s probably the only time I didn’t take his advice and it paid off. Common sense would say don’t compete with such a mammoth festival, but we’ve positioned ourselves as this alternative festival for the everyman.

Nor do you have to worry about selling tickets.

My audience, commuters, are a given. I just have to give them something they can appreciate. My worry is about finding the films and reaching out to the filmmakers rather than filling seats.

The festival has evolved. How about the film submissions?

This year we had 388 submissions and we’re presenting 90 films. In previous years people thought all they could do in a minute is tell a joke, but now people are telling really interesting, open-ended and subtle stories. We’ve also received a number of submissions from Iran and India, both which I’ve heard are very hard countries to submit from. We must have had at least ten submissions from Iran.

They’re also silent. Do you receive submissions with sound?

Quite often, actually, mostly because people don’t like or don’t understand silent films, but we strip the sound for our website because we want it to represent what people see on the festival screens. It’s amazing what works without sound. I’ve seen some amazing dance pieces you think would require it. But I think people are paying more attention to silent films now, and we partner with the Toronto Silent Film Festival every year and they invite me to select some films to be shown at their screenings.

Learn more about TUFF at torontourbanfilmfestival.com.

By:  Special to the Star, Published on Fri Sep 05 2014