Film festivals seem to grow on the trees in Toronto. Every time you turn around, whoa, there’s another one. But the Toronto After Dark Film Festival, an annual showing of horror, sci-fi, action, and cult films is a true Toronto film fest success story. Now entering its seventh year, Toronto After Dark is internationally recognized, has expanded to nine nights with 11 features and 29 shorts, is a showcase for indie video games, and has an expectation of around 10,000 attendees.
In short, the Toronto After Dark Film Festival is a big deal, a very big deal. That’s due in large part to the tireless passion for genre films and the marketing savvy that festival founder Adam Lopez brought to the equation. Like all good film festivals, this one starts with a love for film, in this case a specific kind. “When I was 13, I ran this sci-fi and horror movie club at my high school. When I look back it was a really happy period of my life, running this Geek Club,” said Lopez. “When I came to Toronto, I fell in love with the fact that Toronto had this vibrant film festival scene.”
Even though Toronto is brimming over with film festivals, Lopez did notice a gap. There was no genre-specific festival for the sci-fi/fantasy/horror/cult movie fan. “People started telling me about other genre film festivals like the Fantasia Film Festival in Montreal. While Toronto has a lot of festivals, there was no genre-specific festival.”
With a plan in hand, Lopez set about making the fantasy of a genre-specific film festival a reality. He combined his own passion for film, a deep experience in marketing, and what he calls a dream team of people with experience in engineering film festivals and the formula proved sound. The Toronto After Dark Film Festival launched in 2006, with roughly 200 people attending each screening. That’s a phenomenal success for a fledgling festival. Even more phenomenal is the exponential growth of the festival. In just a few years, the fest has grown from five nights to nine; from 10 features to 20; and Lopez hopes for roughly 10,000 attendees this year.
Lopez is quick to note that the festival is still very much a homegrown affair. The Toronto After Dark Film Festival doesn’t have major corporate or government sponsors. What it does have is fanatical support from movie fans and international recognition. The worldwide call for submissions to the 2012 festival garnered 250 features and 500 shorts, making the festival one of the most competitive genre festivals in the world.
Lopez is confident that this year’s line-up of features and shorts will have movie-goers lining up again. “We have some really great films this year. We don’t usually get a lot of action movies, but we have Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning with Dolph Lundgren. It’s very cool, very dark and has these no-holds-barred, bare knuckled fight scenes.”
Lopez is also excited about securing the Canadian premiere of Rec 3: Genesis , a Spanish zombie flick that features a zombie outbreak at a wedding. “I don’t know what it is about this city and the undead,” laughed Lopez. “Toronto has the largest zombie walk with 5,000 undead walking, so we always look for a zombie film. This is a really, really cool one,” he said.
Another buzzworthy film showing in this year’s festival is American Mary , written and directed by twins Jen and Sylvia Soska — sometimes known as the “Twisted Twins” — that explores the cult trend of extreme body modification. “It’s a kind of crime thriller. It’s a dark, psychological movie about black market body modification and it’s very cool. The twins will be coming to the festival, so that’s really exciting,” said Lopez.
As excited as Lopez is about the line-up of films at this year’s festival, he’s equally excited about its community-building events. Aside from the aforementioned zombie walk, Toronto After Dark attendees hit Paupers Pub across the street from the festival’s home base at the Bloor Cinema after each screening. “We have pub night after every screening ’til 2:00 am and it’s a great scene. Everyone is a fan and really friendly,” said Lopez. “The filmmakers often attend pub night, too.”
In the never-ending quest to grow the festival, Toronto After Dark is introducing a new feature at pub night this year: the Darkade, a showcase of indie horror/sci-f video games. “We put out an open call for entries and we got a lot,” said Lopez. “Toronto has a vibrant indie video game culture. If you’re looking for something a little alternative, a little off the beaten path, you can try these games out.”
The Toronto After Dark Film Festival will be bringing shocks and screams to genre film fans from October 18 to October 26 at the Bloor Cinema. It’s important to note that although Lopez is quoted regarding just a few films here, he is passionate and excited about ALL of the films in this year’s line-up. The extraordinary success of the Toronto After Dark Film Festival rests on the fact that it’s curated by fans, for fans, and that kind of excitement is contagious. So get ready to put on your best zombie get-up at the ready, hit the pub night, play some video games, and catch as many of these movies as you can.
For more information about the full festival line-up, the schedule, and to buy tickets visit the Toronto After Dark website.