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Every September, thousands of people head to Toronto for TIFF. For some festival-goers, the trip to the city is a tradition for movie fans who like the idea of travelling to a different city to see movies and check out whatever cool restaurant or bar has opened up since their last trip to Toronto. But while Canada’s biggest city may be home to its biggest film festival, it isn’t the only one worth travelling to.
All across the country, festival runners are curating lineups that are well worth the price of a plane ticket. So pack your autograph book, go see a city you might not visit, make friends with people who are into the same stuff you are, hit up some great parties, and start a festival tradition of your own.
Do you like movies, arcade games, and eating cereal while binge-watching cartoons on a Saturday morning? Welcome to paradise. Not only do the programmers at CUFF know how to build an amazing film festival, they also kick ass at making it FUN. The Saturday Morning All-You-Can-Eat Cereal Cartoon Party features a full three hours of retro cartoons and a sugar cereal buffet while CUFFcade gives you access to five, never-before-played video games housed in custom arcade cabinets and located right in the theatre lobby.
“Festivals like CUFF give film lovers whose tastes don’t necessarily match up with what’s typically released theatrically, a chance to see great selections of international and genre cinema on the big screen,” says CUFF programmer Jeff Wright. “It also offers a fantastic sense of community, and the beautiful experience of seeing these films with large, enthusiastic audiences. I’ve made great friends at CUFF.”
Quentin Tarantino calls Montreal’s Fantasia “The most important and prestigious genre film festival on this continent.” Let the Right One In, The Blair Witch Project, Shaun of the Dead, and Ghost World all had their Canadian premieres at Fantasia.
“What makes Fantasia a trip worth taking? If I had to highlight a single peak element of greatness, it would have to be our audience,” says Mitch Davis, the festival’s Co-director of International Programming. “The Fantasia audience is just incredible. It’s this enormous, passionate community of open-minded cinephiles from all over the world who come together each summer in Montreal to form a family. I know of many deep friendships that were formed in our lineups, and at least two couples who met in the crowds have gotten married.”
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“What I find really makes our crowd miraculously special is the level of engagement that you feel at screenings here. It will sound like a rock concert when a moment in a film warrants it, but at the same time, in a giant sold out room, you’ll almost never hear anyone talk over dialogue, or a cell phone going off. There’s a real respect for filmmaking, and a sensitivity to nuance that is just a rapturously amazing thing to experience and be a part of.”
There are a lot of reasons to head to Whistler for winter vacation but they don’t all involve snowpants. If it’s film fests you’re into, leave the snow to the contestants in WFF’s Celebrity Challenge ski race and catch some cool movies instead. But don’t skip the hot tub. Never skip the hot tub.
“Whistler Film Festival is the coolest festival in Canada, not just by virtue of its setting and timing (first week of December) but because it is the only international Canadian film fest that voluntarily chooses to show a majority of Canadian features, with special emphasis on female directors, emerging talent, and world premieres,” says Programming Director Paul Gratton. “It features the best hot tub parties, it’s the most fun of all the Canadian fests, and it’s a great place to make connections.”
Hot Docs, says Director of Programming Shane Smith, is “the place to be if you want to see the best, learn how to make the best, [and] meet the best doc makers.” The festival has run every year since 1993, it’s home base is in a century-old Toronto cinema in 2011. While the Bloor Cinema has roots in the past, Hot Docs is all about the future of the documentary. “In all it’s forms it’s here,” says Smith, “VR, live docs, creative/arts docs, interactive docs.”
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What should you expect? “A great, laid-back vibe, fun parties, free screenings, live music, and… super surprising stories.” Smith lists films about secret cities in Russia, a transgender love story in Uganda, and competitive endurance tickling as examples. The festival runs from late April through the first week of May but the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema is open year-round, so doc fans can see something awesome in Toronto any time.
If you like movies, you probably know all about the Toronto International Film Festival but one of TIFF’s programs stands out as a mini fest-within-a-fest. The audiences for Midnight Madness are a different breed of moviegoer—one that isn’t afraid to yell at the screen or pass around an inflatable beach ball before the show starts. Bonus: TIFF is probably the single best place in Canada to take a selfie with a celebrity.
“The films at Midnight Madness are unlike films at any other festival. They’re wild, they’re crazy, they’re outrageous—and the audience is like no other. They come ready to celebrate film,” says TIFF programmer Colin Geddes. “This is where you’ll see the world premieres of films that your friends will be talking about next year. Cabin Fever, Saw, Insidious, and [2015’s] breakout hit Hardcore Henry all took off from Midnight Madness in Toronto.”
“We show hundreds of films and have lots of parties,” says OIAF’s Artistic Director Chris Robinson. “How can that not be awesome?”
The festival, held at the end of every September, is often referred to as the TIFF of the animation world. “We attract the entire spectrum of the animation world from the big shot A-listers to the indie animators working out of their basement,” Robinson says.
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“Aside from seeing the best animation from around the world where else are you going to find animators, alcohol, and a pumpkin carving contest at our famous animators picnic? Mostly, the OIAF is about having fun, about bringing animators and public together to savour the diversity of animation, and to show people that animation is one of the edgiest, most provocative, and smartest of the arts.”
Held every September in Halifax, this eight-day festival puts East Coast filmmakers front and centre but screens international films too. “In 2013, USA Today named Halifax and the Atlantic Film Festival ‘One of 10 great places for a film festival in North America’” brags Executive Director Wayne Carter, “and who are we to argue? Eight days of the best in Canadian and International films screening in close proximity allow festival goers to binge on all the festival circuit buzz films while enjoying the spectacular sights and friendly hospitality of one of Canada’s most beautiful cities.” East coast charm, fresh lobster, and movies? Yeah, we’re sold.