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The complete guide to Canadian film festivals

posted February 16, 2018

Filming in Canada

In 2016, the film industry in the US and Canada generated roughly $11.4 billion (around £8.1 billion), making it one of the most profitable film industries in the world. While we may think of Canada as a beautifully remote country, it is extremely well-connected in the creative world, and nurtures many aspiring filmmakers. Despite the supposed decline in cinema attendance, statistics show that two thirds of the American and Canadian population visited a cinema at least once in 2016, showing that the world’s love of film is very much still alive.


Canada’s abundance of film festivals has played a large role in helping passion for film and filmmaking to flourish. Events such as the Toronto Film Festival have earned their place in the film industry alongside Cannes and Sundance. But even smaller events work hard to encourage the next generation of filmmakers. In this guide, we look at some of the most exciting film festivals in Canada taking place in 2018, and speak to the festival directors for some insider information.


Canadian Film Fest, Toronto

March 20-24

Film poster Canadian Film Fest

Canadian Film Fest is dedicated to supporting Canadian independent films as well as emerging and established filmmakers. With a focus on showcasing only Canadian feature films and shorts, the event attracts like-minded industry professionals and film fanatics from across the country and the United States. We wanted to find out if any films in particular stood out to festival director Bern Euler:

“All of them! I know this sounds like an out but every film is curated from many films that we want to screen, we just don’t have enough screens for all of them. Because we have films of all genres – comedy, drama, Sci-Fi, horror, art house – everything stands out for completely different reasons. Everything here is a work of art. Even the popcorn.”

Once they’ve succeeded at the festival, what’s next for the winners? “Winners and participants will be able to have a chance of selling their films (if they haven’t already got distribution), making new connections and networking to further their next projects, and reaching theatre-going audiences,” said Bern. “We’re also a recognised film festival by the Canadian Screen Awards so anyone in our line-up is halfway to being able to be nominated for a Canadian Screen Award.”


Calgary Underground Film Festival

April 16-22



Calgary Underground Film Festival (CUFF to those in the know) showcases contemporary films in a multitude of categories, from documentary and animation to feature films and shorts. By focusing on films that ‘defy convention’, CUFF brings guests a taste of films rarely seen in North American cinemas. If you’re a film buff passing through Calgary on holiday in April, tickets are around $10, so it’s well worth stopping by The Globe Cinema to experience some of the most exciting films made in Canada right now. In 2018, CUFF is introducing a whole new event to its calendar – CUFF Docs International Documentary Festival, which takes place in November.


Hot Docs, Toronto

April 26 – May 6

Hot Docs

Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival is North America’s largest documentary festival. As well as showcasing roughly 200 cutting-edge documentaries from Canada and across the world, the festival provides a dedicated platform for aspiring filmmakers to launch their careers in the film industry. The Hot Docs festival was founded in 1993 by the Documentary Organisation of Canada and has gone on to help many young filmmakers to get their names, and work, out in the world. We spoke to the team at Hot Docs to find out more about the event:

“The festival presents an outstanding selection of over 200 documentaries from Canada and around the world that are presented to Toronto audiences and international delegates of over 200,000. With over 460 documentary screenings, 80% include a public Q&A with audiences.

“This year’s festival will feature a spotlight on new documentaries from Mexico, and will include a program called The Changing Face of Europe, a showcase of 10 new documentaries that will each illustrate and examine the current cultural, geographic, economic and political factors affecting Europe today.”

As Hot Docs showcases a huge number of innovative documentaries, we were curious to find out which had stood out the most to the team. They kindly provided us with a list of their favourites:

“Unarmed Verses, Best Canadian Feature Documentary Award, Hot Docs 2017

A Cambodian Spring, Special Jury Prize, International Feature Documentary, Hot Docs 2017

KONELĪNE: our land beautiful, Best Canadian Feature Documentary Award, Hot Docs 2016

The Prison in Twelve Landscapes, Special Jury Prize – Canadian Feature Documentary, Hot docs 2016

OJ: Made in America, 2016 Festival

Tony Robbins: I Am Not Your Guru, 2016 Festival

Chasing Coral, 2017 Festival

Playing God, 2017 Festival

Bill Nye: Science Guy, 2017 Festival

What Happened Miss Simone?, 2015 Festival

Big Boys Gone Bananas!*, Hot Docs 2012; TOP 10 Audience Favourite

Blackfish, Hot Docs 2013

The Cove, Hot Docs 2009; Audience Award Winner

My Left Breast, Hot Docs 2001; Gold Award – Best Canadian Documentary”

Visit the website for information on Hot Docs screenings taking place during April and May.


Fantasia Montreal

July 12 – August 1

Robert Pattinson at Fantasia Montreal

Fantasia has long been a big name in the film industry; the festival even showcased the North American premiere of Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds. The iconic event, which started in Montreal in 1996, is also credited with launching the careers of many of today’s prominent filmmakers.


“Fantasia is the largest and most influential genre film festival on the continent,” said co-director Mitch Davis. “While we’re predominantly known as a genre festival, we regularly showcase films that can’t be classified within conventional genre definitions, including documentaries, musicals and experimental works.


“Some of today’s most celebrated genre voices were first introduced to the world at Fantasia, and many European and Asian trailblazers had their first North American exposure here. Our audience has become the stuff of legend, with many screenings taking on the energy of a rock concert when that moment warrants it, yet you’ll practically never hear a person speak over dialogue, or a phone go off. There’s an infectious love for cinema here that makes everything become amplified and supercharged with passion.”


Showcasing such a wealth of talent, it is little wonder why many celebrities and directors have sought to attend Fantasia. Mitch said: “Past guests have included Guillermo del Toro (who called Fantasia ‘a shrine’), Robert Pattinson, Takashi Miike, James Gunn, Sarah Adina Smith, Edgar Wright, Ray Harryhausen, John Carpenter, Ken Russell, Tobe Hooper and Andrzej Zulawski.


“It’s too early for us to be able to go into specifics for this summer’s fest, programming-wise, but what I can tell you is that our 2018 festival will be our 22nd edition, taking place July 12-August 1. As always, it will feature over 125 feature films and more than 260 shorts, some showing for their first time in the country, others showing for the first time in the world.


“As per our tradition, the programming will be a mix of new discoveries and the Canadian bows of highlights from Sundance, Cannes, Berlin, SXSW, Tribeca etc. There will be hordes of special guests and events (panels, parties, book launches etc.)”


With so many new and exciting films being showcased at Fantasia, we were curious to find out which stood out the most to the team over the years:


“Just last year, in 2017, Fantasia showcased major premieres of three features that would become their countries’ submissions for the 2018 Foreign Language Oscar – Fantasia screened the International Premiere of South Korea’s A Taxi Driver, the North American Premiere of Poland’s Spoor and the Canadian Premiere of Finland’s Tom of Finland.


“In addition, last summer, Fantasia unveiled the North American Premiere of the Safdie Brothers’ Cannes award-winner Good Time, with Robert Pattinson and Ben and Josh Safdie hosting the screening.”


Toronto Film Festival

September 7-17

Toronto Film Festival

Undoubtedly Canada’s most famous film festival, this event is on par with the likes of Cannes, Berlin and Sundance. Toronto Film Festival (or TIFF), is a charitable and cultural organisation presenting the best of international and Canadian cinema. As well as showcasing the latest films for fans, the event offers plenty of exciting opportunities for aspiring filmmakers to meet and learn from the movers and shakers in the industry. 2018’s event begins on September 7, so if you’ve booked your flights to Toronto and are keen to do some celebrity-spotting, this is your chance. Check out the list of this year’s winners.


FIN: Atlantic International Film Festival, Halifax

September 13-20


Billed as one of Canada’s premier film festivals, FIN: Atlantic International Film Festival is an eight-day extravaganza, taking place in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Art and film enthusiasts flock to the city each year for FIN to experience a dynamic range of epic films and truly unforgettable stories. We caught up with programming director Jason Beaudry to find out more about the event:


“FIN Atlantic International Film Festival is an eight-day celebration of film, media and music from our region and around the world. It’s a festival that turns Halifax – a charming and historic coastal city – into an international mecca for the arts, abuzz with film lovers and filmmakers alike.


“Offering a first look at the best movies of the year, the Atlantic International Film Festival is a champion of local filmmakers and worldwide film, committed to bridging the gap. A not-for-profit organization, FIN Atlantic International Film Festival depends heavily upon its strong ties to the surrounding and thriving arts community. All of our carefully curated content is chosen with our people and our region in mind, and our special events are designed to bring us all together.”


So, what’s in store for this year’s event? “This year is expected to further cement the Festival’s reputation as Atlantic Canada’s curator of epic and unforgettable stories,” said Jason. “FIN Atlantic International Film Festival prides itself in celebrating the East Coast’s newest work alongside the world’s most anticipated films of the year, and 2018 will take that commitment to new heights. Few cultural events are as open and inviting as the Atlantic International Film Festival, which offers exceptional accessibility to future award-winners, shining a spotlight on home-grown talent alongside an expanding array of selections for special interests. With over 120 film screenings – not to mention a breadth of galas, receptions, panels, and an increasing array of unique interactive experiences – there truly will be something for everyone at this year’s event, and everyone is invited.”


With so many fresh and inspiring films being showcased at FIN each year, we wanted to know if any in particular have stood out to the team. Jason said: “The fact that the most celebrated Canadian and international films coexist so naturally alongside the Atlantic region’s brightest talents is truly the crowning achievement of FIN Atlantic International Film Festival.


“In recent years, festival attendees have been some of the first in the world to see award winners such as Room, Brooklyn, Moonlight, The Square and Call Me By Your Name, while also discovering such exceptional regional films as Cast No Shadow, Closet Monster, Maudie, Werewolf and Black Cop, which have gone on to garner international recognition. This melding of global and local makes FIN Atlantic International Film Festival a truly unique experience.”


Ottawa International Animation Festival

September 26-30


For something a little different on your Canadian holiday, why not check out some of the year’s best animation films and shorts? Ottawa International Animation Festival is perhaps one of the most fun and exciting film festivals in Canada, taking place in its beautiful capital. Through the medium of animation, artists and filmmakers share stories on a huge range of subjects, using dazzling effects and inspiring digital creations. The festival celebrates each artist’s bold creativity and welcomes locals and visitors to experience the magic of animation.


Whistler Film Festival, British Columbia

November 28 – Dec 2

Whistler Film Festival

Founded in 2001, Whistler Film Festival was created to support independent filmmakers, put Whistler on the map as a hot cultural destination and to promote British Columbia’s burgeoning film industry. The festival has grown massively and now welcomes over 16,000 attendees annually. Since its inception, Whistler Film Festival has showcased 1,017 films, and worked to establish a community of filmmakers and industry professionals to help BC’s aspiring artists to thrive.

Image credit: Canadian Film Fest, Hot Docs Toronto, Toronto Film FestivalWhistler Film Festival

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