When it comes to film festivals, Canada is famous worldwide for one thing: the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). While it is frequently touted as the most important film festival in North America (if not the second most important in the world), Canada has a lot more to offer than just TIFF. If you were independently wealthy, or could somehow make a living going to film festivals, you could go to a festival every month, and could be in a screening every day in the months of May and September. Of course, you would have to resign yourself to a constant diet of popcorn and jujubes, so you might grow weary, but hypothetically, it could be done.
The abundance of small festivals across Canada allows cinephiles to not only see films that may never come to theatres, but also to spend less than 15 bucks on a trip to the movies. So, if you wish you could spend a year theatre-hopping, here’s a taste of what you could take in.
If a province could be a capital, Quebec would be Canada’s capital of film. At least, it’s the only province where the public goes en masse to see homegrown movies. And there are film festivals a plenty as a result. The past couple of years have been interesting for Montreal since the mainstream World Film Festival lost a scandalous $1 million in government funding, but while the future is iffy for WFF, one festival that has been around longer is definitely hanging on. Now in its 34th year, the Festival du Nouveau Cinema delivers a strong combination of mainstream, independent and experimental films in a laid-back atmosphere. An honourable mention should go to the FanTasia Film Festival, a festival of kung fu, fantasy and horror. Its expansion to Toronto may not have been a success, but the atmosphere of rowdy audiences creating their own commentary was priceless.
When it comes to Toronto festivals, ditch TIFF. You can wait up to four hours in line just to buy an overpriced ticket. Springtime is when Toronto’s theatres really get interesting. Though the city is full of festivals that function less like film festivals and more like a string of thematically linked movies, there are a few smaller festivals that are worth visiting every year. The Canadian Film Centre’s Worldwide Short Film Festival (WSFF) is one of the best in the city. Featuring a week’s worth of international short films and special presentations from short filmmakers such as Chris Landreth (Oscar winner for Ryan) and the claymation geniuses Aardman Animation (Wallace & Gromit and Chicken Run), the WSFF is perfect for those who want something different but don’t have very long attention spans.
British Columbia has the Vancouver International Film Festival and the smaller Victoria Independent Film & Video Festival; Saskatchewan has the first North American film festival the Yorkton Short Film and Video Festival; the Yukon has its own Dawson City International Short Film Festival. There are festivals all over this country, but one province wins for using the most unique locations….
Manitoba is home to the National Screen Institute’s Winnipeg-based FilmExchange where, in the middle of March, films are projected onto a screen made of snow. In the summer, sitting in the sand of Gimli beach and facing a screen that rests above the waves of Lake Winnipeg, the audience of the Gimli Film Festival gets to take in the latest offerings from Winnipeg’s own Guy Maddin and–since the Gimli area is home to the most Icelandic people outside of Iceland–many films from the homeland. While Canadian films continue to struggle for attention at home, it’s clear that the neglect must be due to apathy, because it sure isn’t for a lack of venues.