Local micro-festivals are keeping it reel

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In Toronto, every year, at precisely this time, once verdant leaves quiver tenuously on their branches, long shadows overtake the sidewalks and hungry wasps infiltrate the city's cafés for that final bit of sweetness. Though this emblematic repetition could easily point to a change of the seasons in any other city, in Toronto it means something else: TIFF is coming.

Say what you will about the ubiquitous event, there is no denying that for 35 years the Toronto International Film Festival has injected the city with a sense of collective vigour that is astonishing. That said, over the years TIFF has undergone a marked shift: the focus of attendees has changed from what one is seeing to who one saw; "getting in" has become far more crucial than what one has gotten into; and holding a martini while flashing one's plasticized ID tags has come to represent the newfangled TIFF far better than sitting in a theatre with a bag of popcorn.

However, throughout September and October, Hogtown is abuzz with a variety of "film-focused" festivals that pick up the pictures TIFF has left behind and, yes, they even have acronyms.

Running from Sept. 10 to 19 (the same dates as TIFF) is the Toronto Urban Film Festival, otherwise known as TUFF. "When the whole city is engulfed in festival fever," says TUFF Director Sharon Switzer, "we bring film to the average person on his or her way to work." The self-proclaimed "film festival for commuters," which displays its array of urban-themed short-films on 270 subway-platform screens throughout the Toronto Transit Commission, aims to reach an entirely different audience than that of TIFF.

Over the course of 10 days, TUFF screens 80 films by both local and international filmmakers, amounting to 10 one-minute silent films a day as well as two days of special programming "“ one of which involves this year's top five films hand-picked by celebrated filmmaker and guest judge, Deepa Mehta.

TUFF, as its name implies, is art for the hard-working Torontonian "“ the city-dweller who doesn't have time to stand in an interminable queue for a movie that will likely be released a week later.

For those who are interested in going out of their way for something less accessible, the Moving Image Festival (Oct. 15 to 17) is a cinematic program that prides itself on showcasing films that feature a fusion of genres. The Brazil Film Festival of Toronto, meanwhile (Oct. 21 to 24), will be banking on the city's fusion of cultures with a grouping of Brazilian docs and feature films. ImagineNATIVE (Oct. 20 to 24) deals with subject matter less foreign to a Toronto audience, although in addition to films from Canadian indigenous communities, it will screen works from aboriginal people from every corner of the globe: This year, the 11th annual imagineNATIVE opens with the winner of the Berlin Film Festival's Grand Prix for Best Feature Film, New Zealander Taika Waititi's Boy.

Festivals like these are definite no-brainers for real film buffs, but the Toronto Palestine Film Festival (Oct. 2 to 8) is perhaps the TIFF surrogate most likely to become a trending topic on Twitter. After last year's controversy over TIFF's spotlight on Tel Aviv, it would be easy to assume that TPFF wants nothing to do with TIFF. But Dania Majid, the festival's media liaison, maintains that "TPFF has a good working relationship with TIFF." Whether this verbal olive branch has anything to do with TIFF's decision this year to program an array of Palestinian-themed films remains unspoken. Still, the official festival kick-off "which sparks the three-day, 24-film showcase" is a panel discussion with Irish filmmakers Ken Loach and Paul Laverty, who both publicly boycotted TIFF last year.

From politics to partying, panels to platforms, directing films to deconstructing them, this fall, Toronto (even without the IFF) has film lovers of all forms covered. Still, if the name Fellini sounds more like a hot new Campari cocktail than it does the moniker of a man who used film to expose this irony, TIFF is always around "just be prepared to wait in line."

Erin Hershberg
From Saturday's Globe and Mail
Published on Friday, Sep. 03, 2010 6:57PM EDT

Special to The Globe and Mail