TIFF12: Favourite Non-Mainstream TIFF Films from the Last Decade

This year will mark my tenth year attending the Toronto International Film Festival.  I’ve steadily increased the number of films I’ve seen each year and I’ve progressed from a mere two screenings in 2003 all the way to the 25 films I am set to see this year.

To celebrate the occasion, I thought I would go back and select 1-2 films from the previous festivals I’ve attended that stand out among my favourites.  However, there was a twist – all the films I picked have to be non-mainstream (i.e. independent and foreign films).  There are some great films I’ve seen over the years and, while I haven’t seen some of these films since I saw them at TIFF, I would definitely recommend all of them.

The Trigger Street.com Project
Saw At: TIFF 2003
Plot Summary: A collection of short films from the TriggerStreet.com website, founded by Kevin Spacey.
Film’s Life After TIFF: The website is still an active community of short films and screenplays.

Kung Fu Hustle
(Would’ve) Saw At: TIFF 2004 (The screening was cancelled due to damaged print)
Plot Summary: Stephen Chow follows up Shaolin Soccer with this genre-mixing martial arts comedy.
Film’s Life After TIFF: The film received a fairly decent theatrical release, which how I finally saw it.  It’s also probably still the highlight of Stephen Chow’s career.

Saw At: TIFF 2005
Plot Summary: Guy Ritchie’s most cerebral (and polarizing) film has Jason Statham playing mind games with Andre3000 and Ray Liotta.
Film’s Life After TIFF: Even though I loved it, the film wasn’t overly well-received at the festival.  When it eventually surfaced again, Ritchie had re-edited the film, trimming down the ending.

Saw At: TIFF 2006
Plot Summary: This horror-comedy was the first film I saw from the Midnight Madness programme and features a group of sales representatives, who find themselves hunted down on a team building trip.
Film’s Life After TIFF: I believe the film got a very brief theatrical release.

Nothing is Private
Saw At: TIFF 2007
Plot Summary: From Alan Ball (Six Feet Under) comes this coming-of-age story of an Arab girl in a suburban community.
Film’s Life After TIFF: The film was renamed to Towelhead (matching the source novel) and was released a year after its festival screening.

Smiley Face
Saw At: TIFF 2007
Plot Summary: Anna Farris plays a girl who is REALLY stoned.  That’s it.
Film’s Life After TIFF: Other than it showing up in the Bell Lightbox’s recent Gregg Araki retrospective, I haven’t seen this film since the very enjoyable TIFF screening.

Saw At: TIFF 2008
Plot Summary: A horror film by Bruce McDonald in which people turn into zombies after saying certain words.
Film’s Life After TIFF: The film was actually pretty successful (for a Canadian film) and I believe a sequel is in the works.

Real Time
Saw At: TIFF 2008
Plot Summary: A man is given one hour to live by the hitman hired to kill him.
Film’s Life After TIFF: I believe the film got a brief theatrical release (and is currently readily available on Netflix Canada).

Saw At: TIFF 2009
Plot Summary: After their bassist (played by a pre-Mad Men Jessica Paré) gets turned into a vampire, an indie rock band finds sudden success.  Features many rock cameos.
Film’s Life After TIFF: Sadly, despite being a very enjoyable vampire rock comedy, the film was quietly released direct-to-video a year after it screened.

The Disappearance of Alice Creed
Saw At: TIFF 2009
Plot Summary: A surprise joy of a film, this film tells the story of two criminals and their hostage.  The less you know, the better (i.e. don’t watch the trailer).
Film’s Life After TIFF: The film received a limited release the summer after it screened at TIFF.


Saw At: TIFF 2010
Plot Summary: A quirky Welsh coming-of-age story.
Film’s Life After TIFF: The film received a limited release the summer after TIFF, though it was very hard for my to find on blu-ray.


Saw At: TIFF 2010
Plot Summary: Two people must travel through Mexico, which is now inhabited by alien creatures.
Film’s Life After TIFF: It was released soon after it played at TIFF and was successful enough that director Gareth Edwards was assigned to remake Godzilla.

Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory

Saw At: TIFF 2011
Plot Summary: The third film of the Paradise Lost series tells the definitive story of the West Memphis Three.
Film’s Life After TIFF: When it premiered at TIFF, it was in the process of being re-edited to include an extended ending depicting the West Memphis Three’s release.  The film also went on to receive an Oscar nomination for Best Documentary.

And those are my favourite non-mainstream TIFF films.  I am sure that I will see some films to add to this group at this year’s festival.

Sean Kelly Author

Sean Patrick Kelly is a self-described über-geek, who has been an avid film lover for all his life. He graduated from York University in 2010 with an honours B.A. in Cinema and Media Studies and he likes to believe he knows what he’s talking about when he writes about film (despite occasionally going on pointless rants).