Toronto has a highly active Film Festival scene, reflecting the diversity of cultural and artistic tastes inhabiting the city. One of the most interesting festivals is the Toronto Jewish Film Festival (TJFF), an eclectic, often thought-provoking event. It showcases Jewish identity, as celebrated and explored in visual stories from across the world. TJFF offers world premieres, provocative sexual themes, comedy, classic horror, “lost” treasures, geopolitical issues, personal storytelling and films in Yiddish. Movies come from countries as varied as Argentina, France, China, Germany, Ireland, Poland, the Philippines, Sweden, the U.K., U.S. and Venezuela. The festival is one of the world’s largest stages for works from the thriving Israeli film industry.
In 2014, the festival featured 116 films from 23 countries and embraced 2 World Premieres, 5 North American Premieres and 44 Canadian Premieres. The Toronto Jewish Film Festival has been running since 1982 and offers an eclectic line-up of films. The festival generally takes place over 11 days in May, at 5 venues, including the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema. It is one of the few festivals that screens in both the fun downtown and distinguished uptown districts.
The Toronto Jewish Film Festival is the principal Jewish film festival in the world, screening the finest in international features, documentaries and shorts concerning themes of Jewish culture. In 2014 it featured Argentina’s Academy Award submission The German Doctor, and the enchanting comedy, Hunting Elephants starring Patrick Stewart. Documentaries showcased looked at the lush, ignored history of Canadian Jewish farmers. The often-overlooked Jewish Horror film genre was brought to a wider audience with The Fearless Vampire Killers (Roman Polanski) and God Told Me, an example of 1970s American exploitation cinema.
The festival also offers an Archival category, which shows films from the beginning of cinema to the present. Films have included the 1938 Yiddish musical comedy Mamele starring “the Queen of the Yiddish Musical”, the 1981 documentary I Remember Barbra (reminiscences about Barbra Streisand) and the delightful Tviggy from 1969. It may appear to the outsider, that finding films that explore the different aspects of Jewish culture would be challenging. But, over the years, TJFF has developed networks with producers, directors and distributors, who inform the festival about their new productions. The festival programmers often discover surprising and exciting new films, via the “unsolicited” submissions from filmmakers who wish their visual stories to be heard at the Festival. This combination results in a hefty 500 submissions a year. Maintaining a broad programme is a challenge. The program has to balance incorporating a range of countries, subject matter, genres and formats of film and documentary.
Visiting TJFF offers the rare opportunity, for people from all backgrounds, to experience Jewish and cultural diversity through the medium of film.