Being raised in a family with a deep-rooted connection to media inspired me to forge my own path, finding the right fit in the arts. My interest in public art, combined with my love of film and video art, led to the creation of TUFF. The Toronto Urban Film Festival is a platform that gives Torontonians an opportunity to experience innovative cinema while they’re travelling around the city. This initiative is vastly different to other film festivals, since it blurs the line between art and reality within the utilitarian setting of public transit.
The idea for TUFF came from a number of elements, including my public space projects with the curatorial collective Clamorous Intentions in the 1990s, my experiences at the CFC’s Media Lab, and conversations with Michael Girgis, who was running running Pattison Onestop at the time. I’m frequently asked why it takes place during the Queen of all festivals – TIFF, and if we’re willing to change the timing to garner more media attention. The big difference being that TUFF films can be submitted by anyone, are free to enjoy and are solely meant for public entertainment and to promote positive thinking around art in public spaces. I very much wanted to bring film to people, rather than making people seek film. Don’t be fooled, the timing of TUFF is no coincidence. TUFF is the alternative film festival; we have no red carpets, that’s not what TUFF is about – it’s about making independent, creative vision accessible in public spaces.
In the past, TUFF has invited local talent to stand as guest jurors to advise on awards, as TUFF proudly awards filmmakers from all over the world, culminating in about $20,000 in prizing. Past judges include Deepa Mehta, Patricia Rozema, Guy Maddin, Bruce McDonald, Jennifer Baichwal and Mark McKinney. This year, Zaib Shaikh, City of Toronto’s Film Commissioner & Director of Entertainment Industries, will be guest judging at the festival. We are very much looking forward to this collaboration.
The awards celebrate the best films at the festival and it’s a priority for TUFF to recognize homegrown talent each year. In 2015, the festival awarded the first prize to Toronto-native filmmaker Ananya Ohri for Castles on the Ground. We always have a category for Best Local Film which last year went to Sean Luke Van Wert for his film Black Angels, and Most Original Film by a Local Female Director, which is sponsored by WIFT and last year went to Even Wu. We also award a Best Film by an Emerging Filmmaker to a GTA local each year. These awards are selected by myself and TUFF programmer Angie Driscoll. One of our goals is to help support the passion and talent of our Canadian contributors.
Over the years, we have seen our talented filmmakers move on to fulfilling careers, with TUFF helping them on their creative paths. In 2014 TUFF awarded Foxed! by James Stewart the Best Animation Award. A few months later we heard that longtime David Cronenberg collaborator Martin Katz had acquired the worldwide rights to the 3D version of Stewart’s short film. It’s now in development, and I’m looking forward to seeing it turned into a stop-motion animated feature.
I feel that TUFF is a unique Toronto creation, out of the 72 official films being screened at the festival, 31 represent Canadian talent. The festival brings award-winning, internationally acclaimed talent from across the world to subway viewers, like the Canadian Gemini-nominated Midi Onodera, to whom TUFF awarded the 2015 Lifetime Achievement Award. Midi is a wonderfully talented filmmaker, with over 25 independent short films as well as a theatrical feature film to her name. Since 2006, Onodera has produced almost 500 short videos for various projects, 15 of which we have been able to share with commuters over the past nine years of the festival. One of Midi’s shorts is included in the TUFF TEN program this year, a feature program that Angie Driscoll and myself added to celebrate our milestone of ten years of TUFF.
From September 10 – 18, TUFF features silent, 60-second film videos and animation on Toronto subway platforms across the city, igniting commuters’ imagination and inserting creativity into their daily lives. The festival presents a unique platform for Canadian filmmakers to contribute to the film community. This year TUFF received 485 submissions from 60 countries, including 216 from Canada – 104 from Toronto.