JWR Articles: Preview - Toronto Urban Film Festival (Guest Judge: Don McKellar) - August 31, 2009

Toronto Urban Film Festival

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Something old is new again

Underground creativity is set to be unleashed for the third year as the Toronto Urban Film Festival fills over 270 digital screens that comprise the ONESTOP network’s presence within the Toronto Transit Commission’s subway lines. Over the 10-day period (September 11-20), 80 one-minute films (whittled down from nearly 250 submissions from 11 countries) will give commuters something more engaging and invigorating to see than riding the financial market’s rollercoaster or discovering the latest loss of Toronto’s professional sports teams.

The fun of it is, they’re all silent films. Viewers are taken back to the pre-talkie era and presented with the filmmaker’s visual commentary, broadly defined amongst seven “urban” categories: Ideas, Diversity, Journeys, Encounters, Natural, Secrets, and Imaginary. As in 2008, JWR will review all entries (cross-references below). Like fifth-species counterpoint for composers, being forced into the discipline of a completely visual framework is an ideal way for emerging directors and writers to hone their skills. How often do we wish that feature-length projects would have more show, less tell?

Noted writer/director/actor Don McKellar (cross-reference below) will be this year’s guest judge. He has the difficult task of selecting the three top films overall and the winner of the Naish McHugh Award for Emerging Filmmakers. Included with the cash and in-kind prize packs will be a Basic Listing in the JWR International Directory of Fine Arts and Film.

Speaking at the media launch, McKellar—who’s already seen fifty entries—admitted some apprehension: “I imagined it might have been like YouTube, but they’re really incredibly ambitious—all over the place. The work is really, really diverse in a really meaningful way and reflects well on this city.”

When asked how he might narrow down the field, the affable adjudicator explained that he would venture onto the mass-transit platforms and measure the “subway effect.”

Earlier, Michael Girgis, president and CEO, Onestop Media Group, spoke of his excitement at supporting a festival that fulfills the “artists’ dream of having their work seen.”

Sharon Switzer, executive director of Art for Commuters, reported that only the City of Berlin had anything like TUFF and that the Bloor Station screens (Toronto’s busiest) would be showing the films non-stop: no news or ads interrupting the wide-ranging flow of international imagination.

Representing the seven-member jury, Jennifer Chen (Director of Acquisitions and Programming at Channel Zero) expressed their collective pleasure with the high level of quality and variety of styles.

City of Toronto representative Peter Finestone was particularly enthusiastic about the Naish McHugh Award and the growth of filmmaking during the past thirty years since the Toronto Film and Television Office was established. “While this is one of seventy-five film festivals, its focus on views of our great city is certainly unique.”

More than any other fest, TUFF redefines the notion that seeing is believing. JWR

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Guest Judge - Don McKellar
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