TTC hosts film festival

TTC hosts film festival
Check out TUFF in the subway through to Sept. 18

TTC hosts film festival. Sharon Switzer, digital content and programming curator for the ONESTOP Media Group at the Toronto Urban Film Festival launch. (Sept. 9, 2011) Staff photo/JUSTIN SKINNER
As the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) makes headlines above-ground, the TTC will be home to a film festival of its own.

The Toronto Urban Film Festival (TUFF) will see 67 silent, minute-long films shown at platform level in subway stations across the system. The films come in a variety of genres and have been produced by filmmakers around the world.

The festival was launched at Dundas subway station on Friday, Sept. 9.

Over 370 submissions were entered for this year's festival, many from Canada but a sizable amount from abroad. Films were submitted by filmmakers in 32 countries.

TUFF filmmaker Stephen Andrews, whose film "play god" looks at commuters around the city, said the festival is at once exciting and nerve-wracking.

"It's kind of daunting to have an audience of this size for video art," he said. "I've done four animations, but this was my first time shooting stuff."

He said creating a film that tells a story in a minute, especially without the aid of dialogue, was a challenge, calling it "the love child of a television commercial and a Japanese haiku."

Now in its fifth year, TUFF was conceived by the ONESTOP Media Group's Michael Girgis and Sharon Switzer and provides entertainment for commuters awaiting their train and exposure for up-and-coming directors.

"It's a pretty simple concept - putting film and people in the same place, and putting film where you would not normally see film," Girgis said.

Girgis added that the calibre of films has improved dramatically since TUFF's inaugural year as the festival has gained international acclaim. It was recently named one of the 20 coolest film festivals in the world by MovieMaker magazine and its success has surprised Girgis himself.

"It was a pipe dream - an idea Sharon and I talked about in the boardroom one day," he said. "Sharon came to me when she heard I wanted to have arts and culture on the screens and it all made sense right away."

The films will have a potential audience of up to 1.3 million viewers per day and will be shown on a rotating basis, with different films being screened each day, one every 10 minutes. Bloor, Dundas and St. Andrew subway stations will serve as designated 'Film Zones' and will screen nothing but TUFF films.

On day nine of the festival (Saturday, Sept. 17), the public's favourites will be shown across the TTC, while Sunday, Sept. 18 will see three films specially selected by guest judge Atom Egoyan screened. The Drake Hotel will also hold a screening room where TUFF films can be viewed from Sept. 16 to 18.

Switzer said the feedback for the festival has been overwhelmingly positive from all sides.

"The filmmakers love it," she said. "It's a really strange experience to show your film to a million people but emerging and experimental filmmakers who might never have that kind of audience love that chance."

She added that audiences have also gotten into the festival, many voting and commenting on their favourites at www.torontourbanfilmfestival.com

TTC chair Karen Stintz attended the TUFF launch and noted the festival gets at the heart of Toronto, showcasing its love of culture. She said the TTC was happy to provide the venue for the ever-growing festival.

"These are public spaces, not just places where people wait for their trains," she said. "(TTC riders) get to be part of the artistic talent in the city, even if they can't get their TIFF tickets."

Funding for the festival came from the Canada Council for the Arts as well as a number of other sponsors.

TUFF will run on digital ONESTOP screens in subway stations until Sunday, Sept. 18.