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During the first two weeks of September, you might find some commuters acting a little out of sorts on TTC subway platforms: you might see them purposely missing their trains — but for good reason. From September 6 to 16, the display screens on all TTC subway platforms will be playing a selection of 1-minute short films, films that make up the Toronto Urban Film Festival (TUFF). Now in its seventh and strongest year, TUFF 2013 will screen a total of 76 films divided into a number of programmes, including three films that will make up this year’s Too TUFF for the TTC programme, which can only be viewed online. We got a hold of Sharon Switzer, TUFF’s Festival Director, to find out more about this growing festival that is just as unique as the films that make it up.

How did the idea for a film festival solely for commuters come about?

Our first festival was in 2007 and I was, at the time, working independently. I had just completed the Canadian Film Centre’s Media Lab program when I was introduced to the people at Onestop (now Pattison Onestop), the company who owns and operates the screens on the TTC. I then spent six months pitching and convincing them to allow me to run art and film projects on the screens. The first project we did was an open call photo exhibition. Once we realized that was a success, we decided to try out the film festival, which was also successful. So it all started with this idea that we could create interesting content and support the local film and arts community by giving them space on these screens.

What do you look for in a quality TUFF film?

It’s probably the same as in any other festival: creativity, uniqueness and skill. The story needs to be well made, well told and should have an interesting story or idea and not just a quick one liner.  Quite often filmmakers feel like they need to wrap up the whole idea in the minute and give it to the viewer on a silver platter, which makes for a boring story. Because of the uniqueness of the venue, we also take into account whether the films will look good on the screen and if people can take them in on a crowded platform.

Is there a film or type of film you have seen as part of the festival that you could call your favourite?

As a trained video artist, I come from an experimental background. So I tend to appreciate a lot of the experimental pieces, which are unique and interesting in their own way. However, it’s incredibly hard to create an interesting live action narrative in a silent minute. It impresses me when filmmakers attempt to take up that challenge. There have been a few over the years that have been great and each year we are seeing more of them. We also get a lot of great animation pieces, since they work perfectly in a short time frame. As you can tell, it’s hard enough for me to choose my favourite type, let alone a favourite film. It’s hard to pick favourites when we see so much amazing work.

What does your role as Festival Director entail?

I pretty much do everything. It’s almost a one-person show. I oversee the running of the entire festival, with help from my team of interns. Once I’ve sat down and selected the films for inclusion in the festival, our programmer Angie Driscoll and I, create the programmes. I also oversee the selection of our guest celebrity judge each year who selects our top awards at the festival. This year it’s Canadian filmmaker Bruce McDonald.

What do you think Bruce McDonald will bring to this year’s judging panel?

I am old enough that I grew up watching his films. I have great respect for him and the way his mind works as a filmmaker. I am definitely looking forward to seeing what films he will be attracted to and interested in—I could never guess.

What is your hope for the future of TUFF?

I just want to keep moving forward and see the festival continue to grow. I love supporting local filmmakers, especially emerging filmmakers and giving them an audience of over one million people. It’s also incredibly fun to see work come in from all over the world. This year we had work from 35 countries. I hope that what people take away from this is that it is a serious medium and that you really can do something interesting in a one-minute time frame. These public screens are everywhere now and I believe that it’s important for artists to take up the challenge of creating content for them. In the grand scheme of things, though, I’d really like to see more festivals like this pop up across the country. It’s a great thing for both filmmakers and commuters alike.

All 76 films can be viewed online throughout the festival and for the rest of the year at www.torontourbanfilmfestival.com. Voting will take place throughout the festival for the Viewer’s Choice Award, given to the film with the most votes.

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