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Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The Best Film Festivals in Toronto

Festivals TorontoThe 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.

See also:

The Best Place to Watch a Film in Toronto

Where to watch free movies in Toronto


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.

Hot Docs

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).


By far the most unique festival out there, Images Film and Video Festival is in a league of its own. Focusing on experimental film and video art, Images' programming is possibly the most avant-garde and innovative in the city. One of the most amazing experiences I've ever had at a festival was during Images 2010 for their closing night performance by Shary Boyle, who has since gone on to represent Canada at the Venice Bienniale. Images is continually pushing boundaries in the realm of film and art.

Open Roof Festival

Possibly the most laid back festival on the calendar, Open Roof is a festival of film, music and food. Less about premieres and red carpets and more a fun summery atmosphere, Open Roof screens films once a week from June through August, with live bands accompanying each screening and top-notch food trucks for pre and post movie snacks. Previously located at the Amsterdam Brewery, Open Roof has since moved to the Moon Lot View on Queens Quay for even more breezy summer vibes.

Reel World

In many ways, Reel World is not just a film and video festival, but a grassroots movement focused on giving opportunity to and celebrating diversity in the arts. Every April, Reel World screens film and videos from a variety of communities as well as provides support and encouragement to new filmmakers through their Reel World Foundation. Founded by actress Tonya Williams (from Young and the Restless and Polka Dot Door!) they also promote local filmmakers with a promise of 50 to 75% Canadian content. Reel World is a festival with a message.

European Union Film Festival

If you missed seeing the latest films from some of Europe's finest at TIFF in September, don't fret. There's a good chance many of them will turn up at the European Union Film Festival. Collaborating with EU consulates and cultural institutes, this completely free film festival takes over the Royal every November, offering up some great films from EU nations, from Ireland to Estonia and all the places in between. Get a glimpse of some of next year's contenders for Best Foreign Film Oscars 3 months before everyone else.

Regent Park Film Festival

Totally independent and always free, Regent Park Film Festival work with and for the community, presenting a variety of films and events, both international and locally produced. Using film as a way to reach out to the community and beyond, the Regent Park film festival has expanded to include year round programming such as summer outdoor screenings and community workshops, always at no cost. Going into its 11th year, it shows how art and film can be inclusive and engaging at the same time.

Toronto Palestine Film Festival

Taking place every September, the Toronto Palestinian film festival is ready for anyone who didn't get enough of a film fix from TIFF. Only in its 5th year, this festival has quickly established a strong audience for its selection of Palestinian film and music. In addition to highlights from the year's best Palestinian films, there is also an annual art show and the very popular Palestinian Brunch, one of the hottest tickets of the festival.

ImagineNative Film and Media Arts Festival

Since 1998, imagineNative has been showcasing emerging and established indigenous film and new media artists from Canada and beyond. With a wide range of features, shorts programs featuring local talent, plus great new media exhibits and their annual concert The Beat (featuring popular aboriginal performers), the imagineNative festival gives voice to a diverse collection of indigenous artists from all over the world.

Is your favourite local film festival missing? Add it to the comments below.

by Christine B via blogTO

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