There is no official season, but in Canada the opening of the Montreal World Film Festival in late August signals the start of an incredible run of great movie festivals from coast to coast. This month alone will see major festivals in Halifax, Ottawa, Toronto, Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver. Next month, more major festivals in St. John`s, Montreal, Toronto, Barrie, Banff and Victoria. There are more, and they all serve their communities well and we try to report on as many as we can, but for this article, we’ll look at some of the biggies, which we define as those that run longer than a day, or a weekend, or perhaps just a few days.
The biggest of the big, thanks mainly to its location, is The Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). It all started as a small idea, The Festival of Festivals, designed to screen the films that had already played in other festivals for an eager Toronto audience. It has grown over the years to become one of the most important film events in the international festival circuit thanks, to a very large degree, on the enthusiasm of Toronto audiences for great film, and thanks in part to its place in the calendar. Over the past several years, TIFF programmers have had the uncanny ability to select films that often go on to be Oscar® winners or nominated films. But with its growth there have been complaints. There was a long standing tradition, but not a hard and fast rule, that TIFF would open with a Canadian film, That went by the wayside a few years ago.
The shift to big name, big title films has allowed some critics to occasionally refer to TIFF as the Hollywood Film Festival North. This year single ticket prices are causing a lot of negative buzz too. Once nicknamed “the people`s festival,” a single ticket to TIFF is $24.00. That`s about twice what theatre goers would pay during a normal run and, thanks to programming a lot of hit films, many of this year`s films will open in regular theatres within a few days or a few weeks of TIFF`s closing gala.
Speaking of Galas, TIFF opens tonight with the US film, The Judge, costarring Robert Downey Jr. and Robert Duvall. Downey plays a big-city lawyer who returns to his home town when his estranged father, Duvall, is accused of murder.
Along with a huge raft of shorts, TIFF will screen 285 feature films from around the world over the next 10 days, and one of the reasons people who can afford it are willing to pay the big bucks is to see the star or stars and/or director on stage to introduce their film and answer questions after the screening. Is it worth it? Probably not but there are certain bragging rights when you get to see a film before everyone else. It`s the price of entry, if you will. The extra cost of being first in line.
Last year Toronto`s unpopular mayor Rob Ford voted against TIFF`s municipal subsidy of $950,000, which according to reports at the time, represented 2% of the festival`s operating budget. Unless our math is wrong, that means TIFF needs about 45 million dollars a year to stay in business. Although they operate 365 days a year and are involved in many facets of the film festival industry in Canada, with some of the negativity coming out of this year`s festival, and today is just the first day, some might begin to think what else could be accomplished if that money was spread around a little more. One other minor complaint we’ve heard, you’d think with that kind of money they might consider producing a festival poster again each year.
Overlapping with TIFF, which closes on the 14th, is the Atlantic Film Festival which kicks off on the 11th. This 8-day festival will open and close with Canadian films and will screen some 180 films during its run. The opening film is Elephant Song, which will have its World Premiere at TIFF, costarring Xavier Dolan and Bruce Greenwood. The closing gala is David Cronenberg`s Maps to the Stars.
Often overlooked is Cinéfest in Sudbury, Ontario. It opens this year with Rubba Nadda`s new film, Gale on Saturday, September 13th.
Considered the most important festival for animators from around the world, the Ottawa International Animation Festival runs from September 17th to the 21st. Presented with the support of Celebrate Ontario and Walt Disney Animation Studios, this year the Ottawa International Animation Festival will celebrate the world’s most beloved, successful and pioneering animation studio with a series of screenings, talks, exhibitions and legendary Disney animators. “It’s only natural,” according to OIAF Artistic Director, Chris Robinson, “that we debut our new Pioneers of Animation series with a tribute to the most successful, innovative and influential animation studio in the world. Founded in 1923, the 91-year old studio has had a profound and widespread impact on animation and global culture.”
A film titled The Young and Prodigious T.S.Spivet will open the Calgary International Film Festival on September 18. The festival runs until the 21st and gives Albertans a moment to catch their breath before the Edmonton International Film Festival opens on the 25th. Running a tad late, for us anyway, the Edmonton festival won’t post its schedule until September 15th, just 10 days before its opening. That said, the opening gala is the US film, Cut Bank and because it`s a gala, tickets are $25.00. Regular screenings at the festival are a far more reasonable (compared to Toronto) $13.00.
The 33rd annual Vancouver International Film Festival runs for 16 days beginning on September 25th and continuing into October. It will screen 353 films from over 65 countries, including 223 features and 130 shorts. The stellar line-up includes 32 World Premieres, 38 International Premieres, 22 North American Premieres, and 47 Canadian Premieres. VIFF`s Opening Night Gala film is the much-anticipated feature Wild, by Canadian filmmaker Jean-Marc Vallée, of Dallas Buyers Club fame. The film is Nick Hornby`s adaptation of Cheryl Strayed`s best-selling memoir and stars Reese Witherspoon and Laura Dern, and portrays a self-destructive woman who attempts to leave behind her years of drug abuse and recklessness with a solo, 1,000-mile hike along the Pacific Crest Trail.
As mentioned there are many other film festivals this month. Click here to see more.