TUFF: The commuter film festival you don’t need a ticket for


There’s another film festival in the city that caters to those who don’t have the time, money or patience for TIFF.

The eighth annual Toronto Urban Film Festival (TUFF) may share the same dates and a fairly similar name to the star-studded TIFF, but the event, which claims to be “North America’s largest commuter film festival,” couldn’t be more different.

Running underground in the TTC from Sept. 5 to 15, TUFF’s executive director Sharon Switzer says they’re hoping to bring some stress-free entertainment to commuters via 63 one-minute silent films, carefully selected from over 388 submissions around the world. They will play every 10 minutes on Pattison Onestop screens in subway stations across Toronto.

“We are offering the city an alternative, this kind of film festival for the everyday man where you don’t have to stand in line, you don’t have to do the red carpet, you can just see a film on your way to work,” she explains. “It’s a kind of fun addition to the energy of film in the city.”

This year, new programs like TUFF Local Stories and Travel Stories will be taking the event right across Canada. Besides Toronto commuters, shoppers in 40 malls in Canada, and travellers at the Calgary International airport will also have an opportunity to see a handful of films.

TUFF will also be showcasing a special commissioned project called The Dialogues, a series of eight short films about revolution and struggle, created by Public Studio’s Elle Flanders and Tamira Sawatzky. The pair took the dialogue from works by master filmmakers over the years and stripped out all the images to create a piece that would hopefully “capture a bit of poetry.”

“People are shuttling back and forth to work, so if this allows for a moment of contemplation, then I would say that’s an achievement,” says Flanders. “The second thing for us was to inject the potential for revolutionary statements, for big ideas to be able to be seen and heard again. To feel empowered, you know?”

Most of the films at TUFF don’t have big budgets, but Switzer says they do have a lot of heart. She points to a film this year called Lonely Monster, about a girl who witnesses bullying at school and decides to create a film to help educate people.

“She makes this Hollywood-style film of a monster, like a Godzilla, trampling through the city until he realizes he’s only a mean monster ’cause he’s lonely,” she says. “It’s a very complicated story to tell in a minute, and the editing is great. It’s kind of cheesy in a fun way, very well-made.”

Besides getting the chance to showcase their work to over one million daily commuters, some filmmakers like Flanders are also hoping to bring a bit of art back into people’s lives.

“What I think is brilliant about TUFF is it takes the work out of museums, out of the so-called cinematic box where you actually have to physically go to and have an interest in, and it makes it part of the everyday, and I think we need more of that,” she says. “We need these moments that take us out of the mundane parts of our lives, the to and from work, give us back those moments of poetry.”