TUFF screens the winning films on a screen on a TTC platform on Monday, September 16.

TUFF shines light on underground filmmakers

TTC subway monitors 'become portal to another universe'

It’s Toronto’s underground film festival-literally, reaching millions of Torontonians who commute on the TTC.

From September 6-16, the Toronto Urban Film Festival (TUFF) is playing one minute films on TTC platform screens across the city. The festival runs the same week as the Toronto International Film Festival.

“There’s nothing more boring than standing at a subway platform and seeing the same imagery, and I think it’s really lovely that the monitor becomes this little portal to another universe,” said Toronto-based artist Gary MacLeod.

MacLeod’s film “NIGHT THING” was chosen to be screened in TUFF, against hundreds of submissions from across the world. MacLeod, who has exhibited his work in numerous galleries and festivals including Nuit Blanche and Street Art Showcase, appreciates the uniqueness of the festival.

“The thing about TUFF that is so attractive is they allow artists complete freedom to do whatever they want,” MacLeod said. “You don’t have to come up with a budget to do a two hour feature movie.”

MacLeod has been using text and signage in his work for the last twelve years.

“I’m always seeing an image and a word and how I can change it, and where it will take people,” MacLeod said.

Screenshot from NIGHT THING, Gary MacLeod, 2013.
Screenshot from NIGHT THING, Gary MacLeod, 2013. (Alexandra Gater / Toronto Observer)

In NIGHT THING, originally a four-minute piece with a soundtrack, a neon open sign flashes up on the screen. More than one hundred words flash up on the screen where the word “open” usually sits.

“NIGHT THING came from me thinking about what happens if that sign is like a portal to another universe, where it’s almost like you’re hypnotized by the message,” MacLeod said. “And since that sign has its own mind, it starts changing and giving you messages back.”

TUFF screens one minute silent films, a quality that Sharon Switzer, founder and Executive Director of the festival, says speaks to its accessibility for artists. The festival, she says, gives artists exposure they would not normally receive.

“They get an audience of over one million and a half daily commuters,” Switzer said. “That’s a huge audience of people who would not normally see their work and possibly not normally go looking for independent film and video.”

On Sunday evening the top three films, selected by guest judge and Canadian filmmaker Bruce McDonald, will be awarded a prize. Eleven other films will also be recognized with awards, including Viewers’ Choice Award.

“The idea [of TUFF] has got people’s attention over the years,” Switzer said. “It’s incredibly unique. It gives Toronto something that nobody else has.”

The winning films will be screened on TTC platforms this Monday.

You can watch NIGHT THING on the Too TUFF for the TTC webpage here.