TIFF 2013: What’s the big deal, anyway?

Wide Screen

The 2013 Toronto International Film Festival kicks off on Sept. 5. The annual event transforms Ontario’s capital into the centre of the movie universe for ten days, attracting hundreds of films, filmmakers, and stars from around the world, as well as thousands of film fanatics and celebrity watchers.

The festival almost always has a noticeable impact on residents of Toronto – be it in the form of a celebrity sighting, memorable movie experience, or just a fest-related traffic delay. But if you live outside of the Greater Toronto Area, you might be asking yourself, “What’s the big deal? Why should I care about TIFF?”

Well, here are three reasons you should be excited for TIFF 2013.

It's the unofficial start to the movie awards season

Marking the unofficial start to the Oscar race, TIFF has become one of the most important dates on the film industry calendar in recent years. Major studios use Toronto as springboard for their Oscar hopefuls, while smaller films use the international stage provided by the fest to get noticed. A good reception at TIFF can mean big things for a movie, as evidenced by 2009 Best Picture winner “The Hurt Locker.” The Kathryn Bigelow directed Iraq War film didn’t even have a distributor coming into the 2008 festival, but left Toronto with both a U.S. release deal and plenty of Oscar buzz.

Most of the recent big Oscar winners have played at TIFF, with many of those films taking home the festival’s coveted People’s Choice Award. The award – which is determined by festival audiences rather than a jury – is seen by many as an important Oscar bellwether. Past People’s Choice winners like “American Beauty,” “Slumdog Millionaire,” and “The King’s Speech” all went on to win Best Picture Oscars, and almost every other movie to win the award in recent years (films like “Precious” and “Silver Linings Playbook”) has gone on the make noise come awards season.

If you’re part of an Oscar pool at your office or simply enjoy the drama of the Hollywood awards season, you should definitely be keeping your eyes on TIFF.

The economic impact

Every September, the eyes of the world look to Toronto.

As one of the top events of its kind, TIFF has been great for Canada’s reputation abroad – and all that good press that has translated into real economic benefit for the city and the country. The annual event attracts an estimated 30,000 film fans from around the world and adds almost $200 million to the local economy.

But TIFF is not just important because of its immediate economic impact. The fest has played an integral part in transforming Toronto from a once sleepy and conservative burg into the bustling cultural metropolis that it is today. No longer is Canada seen as “that cold and boring place north of the United States”; instead, it’s regarded as one of the most important centres for film and film production on the planet.

Even if you’re not interested in the Oscar race or swept up by the red carpet fever that seems to capture Toronto every September, there’s no disputing TIFF’s huge economic impact and the positive press it generates for Canada.

The movies that screen at TIFF are phenomenal

At the end of the day, the Toronto International Film Festival is about movies.

If you’re a fan of film – of any kind of film – you should be a fan of TIFF, too. The fest was founded on the idea of showcasing the very best and most interesting movies from around the world, regardless of genre or star power, and it continues to do so today.

While the glitzy red carpet premieres and arthouse movies may get most of the press, TIFF is also an important destination for genre movies (horror, sci-fi, action, westerns, etc.), animated films, documentaries, shorts, and first time features. By providing an audience for those films – many of which might otherwise never be seen – TIFF is helping to keep the medium as a whole stay fresh and strong.

If none of these reasons get you excited for TIFF, then perhaps the fest simply isn’t for you. But if you like the movies and want Canada to continue to play an important part in the evolution of this amazing art form, then the Toronto International Film Festival is the place to be.

TIFF 2013 runs from Sept. 5 to 15.