Toronto Urban Film Festival offers entertainment to those using the TTC

While the red carpets of the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) garner headlines, a smaller film festival is ensuring commuters on the TTC get their share of entertainment as well.

Now in its eighth year, the Toronto Urban Film Festival (TUFF) will see one-minute silent films screened on Pattison One Stop’s platform-level video screens throughout the subway system. The films, submitted by filmmakers from around the world, will provide transit users with a welcome diversion as they await their trains.

“The films will play every 10 minutes on 290 screens across the TTC,” said TUFF Executive Director Sharon Switzer. “We’ll also have TUFF uninterrupted at St. Andrew station, where the films will be playing non-stop.”

The films will replace the usual news and advertising feeds to which TTC riders have grown accustomed to on the Pattison One Stop screens.

TTC board member Alan Heisey noted his organization is thrilled to welcome TUFF to its platform-level screens each year.

“TUFF is the price of a TTC token and you don’t have to line up to see a film,” he said.

In addition to providing free entertainment for commuters, TUFF also provides opportunities for filmmakers to show their work to a large audience.

“It reaches a phenomenally broad audience,” said Toronto filmmaker Wrik Mead, one of three people to earn TUFF Artist Spotlights. “If you have a film shown at TIFF, you’ll maybe get two screenings with 300 people at each, so you’ll reach 600 people. Here, the possibilities are endless.”

Mead’s work – a series of animated shorts culled from a larger work he produced – will be highlighted as part of the TUFF program on Thursday, Sept. 11.

He noted that while TUFF provides opportunities for artists, the format also provides its share of challenges for the filmmakers.

“It has to be 60 seconds on the dot – not 61, not 59,” he said. “It’s hard to get a whole storyline in 60 seconds.”

Joanne Mau and Gordon Yao, two young filmmakers who won last year’s City of Toronto Naish McHugh Award for Emerging Filmmakers for their short film Reminisce, also lauded TUFF for the opportunities it provides to up-and-coming directors.

“It was the place of our professional debut,” Mau said. “When (commuters are) waiting for their subway, we’re their only form of entertainment.”

The festival is no less important for more established filmmakers, said Elle Flanders of Public Studio, who will also participate in TUFF as part of TUFF Above Ground – a series of videos that will be screened at Yonge-Dundas Square through Sept. 14.

“As artists, we always strive to be seen and that means not just being in galleries,” she said. “This festival takes us back to our roots, makes us humble again and makes us remember why we started doing art in the first place.”

In addition to scheduled screenings across the TTC, TUFF will showcase films in shopping malls across Canada and at Calgary International Airport. An online series dubbed Too TUFF for the TTC will showcase short films that contain content or subject matter deemed too risqué to air on the public Pattison screens.

Iconic Canadian filmmaker Guy Maddin (The Saddest Music in the World) will serve as this year’s guest judge and will select this year’s top TUFF entries.

TUFF will run through Sunday, Sept. 15, and members of the public are invited to vote for their personal favourite films until Sept. 11.

For more information on the festival, visit

Staff photo/JUSTIN SKINNER Scarborough Mirror