The best film festivals in Toronto underscore just how far the city has come in a cultural capacity over the last decade or so. Toronto is home to over 50 film festivals (and counting), covering nearly every community and genre. From huge international events to small local gatherings, there is no shortage of options for film fans to choose from throughout the year. If you look hard enough, you can find a film festival representing just about any country, any style of film nearly every month in the GTA, most being just as affordable as going to your local multiplex to see the latest blockbuster.
In compiling a list of the best film festivals in Toronto, there is bound to be some worthy ones that get overlooked. Toronto Animation Arts Film Festival and Rendezvous with Madness are just a couple that deserve an honourable mention. What’s great about listing the best film festivals in Toronto is that with each new year, it’s bound to change along with the city’s film culture, which continues to grow and diversify.
Here is a list of the best film festivals Toronto has to offer.
By far the most popular and high profile festival, the Toronto International Film Festival is an easy and predictable pick for the top of the list. Every September, TIFF brings a buzz to the city as well as nearly 300 films. It’s the last stop on the festival calendar for many filmmakers, which makes TIFF the first stop for Oscar predictions. Everyone talks about the big Hollywood galas, but TIFF is best at finding and supporting innovative and independent filmmakers internationally and at home, and gives them one of the biggest platforms for their work.
Holding it down as North America’s largest documentary festival, Hot Docs has been providing Torontonians with some of the best documentaries from around the world for 20 years. With almost as big a following as TIFF, but with a more down to earth atmosphere (reasonable prices, free daytime screenings for students and seniors) Hot Docs is definitely one of the best festivals around. Its expansion into its own cinema of year round programming speaks to its popularity and success.
Toronto After Dark
Toronto’s preeminent Cult, Sci-fi, and Horror film festival, Toronto After Dark showcases some of the weirdest films out there. Past years have included cult favourites like Human Centipede and Black Dynamite as well as appearances from Eli Roth and Simon Pegg. There’s even a discount for people dressed as Zombies on their annual Zombie Appreciation day. There isn’t another festival like it in the city and fans of cult and horror movies are some of the most fun audiences around.
Inside Out Film Festival
For 24 years the Inside Out Film Festival has been promoting queer cinema in all its forms to the city, starting the summer off with a bang. Inside Out’s programming is always eclectic, with screenings ranging from local short films and boundary pushing features to powerful documentaries, like last year’s Oscar nominated film, How to Survive a Plague. Plus, they have three great parties during the festival and some of the most passionate audiences in the city.
Reel Asian Film Festival
Coming up to it’s 17th year, Reel Asian is Canada’s largest Asian film festival and its programming is as diverse as the continent which it covers. Spanning six days every November in downtown Toronto and now also Richmond Hill, Reel Asian showcases some of Asia’s best artists in film and video, presents art installations and some pretty fun parties, as well as an annual pitch competition which gives local filmmakers an opportunity to make their idea a reality for screening at the following year’s festival.
Toronto Jewish Film Festival
Throughout its 20 year run, the Toronto Jewish Film Festival has continuously provided the city with a wide range of films that touch on the Jewish experience from all over the world. TJFF’s programming continues to evolve each year, looking for new ways to showcase Jewish film. Last year they explored African and Bollywood through the Jewish lens and their yearly sidebar series, retrospectives of influential Jewish entertainers, are always inventive and unique. Previous years have celebrated comic book writers like Harvey Pekar and the 3 Lennie’s (Bruce, Cohen and Bernstein). They also offer free day of student tickets, which adds to this festival’s welcoming atmosphere.
Planet in Focus
Have the fluctuating temperatures this fall got you wondering what is happening in the world? If so, make your way to the Planet in Focus film festival in November to find some answers. Focused primarily on documentaries and experimental shorts about our changing planet from around the globe, PIF also screens over 100 films and offers free and discounted programming for schools and kids. It’s one only a handful of film festivals with a spirit of art and activism at its core.
Cinefranco is all about French language cinema, as the name would suggest. Selections from francophone Canada and the rest of the French-speaking world are presented every March, often with special guests in attendance. Additionally, they present a youth festival leading up to the main event and year round programming, with highlights from French cinema from around the globe. Previous years have included Canadian Screen Award nominated Quebec films, many of which never find theatrical distribution in English Canada. It’s a great way to support Francophone films, while brushing up on your language skills (although subtitles are present at all screenings, just in case).
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