Social Justice and Magic Wands Converge at TIFF Kids International Film Festival
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Social Justice and Magic Wands Converge at TIFF Kids International Film Festival

Entering its 18th year, the TIFF kids festival proves children's cinema is more than just fun and games.

A clip from the Japanese movie, When Marnie Was There  Photo courtesy of TIFF Kids

A clip from the Japanese movie, When Marnie Was There.

Prepare for more than the usual number of little ones in your area, King Westers: the 2015 TIFF Kids International Film Festival rolls out this week.

Beginning today and running until April 19, the festival—which is in its 18th year—celebrates children with more than 126 films from 36 different countries. The roster is made up of an assortment of documentaries, shorts, animations, and films that run the gamut from hilarious to heartwarming to, often, quite serious.

Kids interested in more than just watching movies can attend conferences, meet industry veterans, get creative in filmmaking workshops, and judge movies in young people’s jury.

We spoke with the woman at the head of it all, Elizabeth Muskala, director of TIFF Kids. She tells us more about the movies, the selection process, and how the festival has something for the entire family.

Torontoist: Tell us about the lineup.

Muskala: We’ve got a number of different films for children from the age of three all the way up to 13. There’s a real breadth to programming this year and there’s something for everyone.

A clip from Shaun The Sheep, the opening night movie at TIFF Kids

A still from Shaun The Sheep, the opening-night movie at TIFF Kids.

Social equality, injustice, gender, and bullying—what’s with the serious subject matter?

My role is to not only bring the best of Canadian and international cinema, but also have an equal and balanced program. We want to engage and inspire young people, but, most importantly, we want to entertain. The festival has a robust school program on weekdays when subject matter experts and filmmakers speak on thought-provoking topics like bullying or social injustice. We provide educators with resources that tie directly to the Ontario curriculum—teachers can use film in the classroom to address difficult subjects.

Then there’s a public program for families during weekends where the entire family can come down, watch a movie and have a discussion about some of the more difficult films. Or, they can simply celebrate the wonderful films and be entertained. There are many opportunities for both those experiences within the context of the festival.

How far in advance do you start preparing and what’s the selection process?

We track and solicit films all through the year and we visit a number of festivals on the festival circuit. Following this year’s festival, I will be going to the Annecy International Animated Film Festival in June and my colleague will be going to the Berlin International Film Festival.

We also do a lot of our own research by building relationships with filmmakers, distributors, and sales agents, and keeping track of films in the pipeline. For example, we’ve tracked Shaun The Sheep for a couple of years, ever since it was announced. Now we’re showcasing its Canadian premiere as the opening-night film in this year’s festival.

Of the 36 countries this year, is there one from where you’ve never shown a movie before?

For the first time ever, we’re featuring a film from Paraguay. It’s called Landfill Harmonic—a strong documentary about an orchestra developed by a youth group from a community built on a landfill site. It’s really inspirational and we’re excited to screen it in Toronto.

A clip from the movie, Broken Wand

A still from the movie Broken Wand.

How has the festival evolved?

Two thousand and three hundred people attended when the festival first launched 18 years ago. Now, we have well over 30,000 attendees. Toronto is such a festival-savvy city—Torontonians love and appreciate cinema and there’s a festival for everyone. What makes TIFF Kids unique is that it’s the only festival in Toronto and the GTA for children. It gives them a platform to engage with movies, meet filmmakers from all over the world, and ask important and relevant questions.

Which films are you the most excited about—do you have a favourite?

We’ve got a strong lineup and it’s really difficult for me to pick a favourite. There’s something for everyone. There are many films that I love and many films that get me emotional even on the second or third viewing. And I’m most delighted to show them all to the Toronto audience.

What else is going on, in addition to the film festival?

There’s digiPlaySpace, an interactive new media exhibition featuring 24 installations. This year we’ve commissioned two original pieces by leading new media artists. We’ve seen how comfortable youngsters are engaging with technology and over the years (digiPlaySpace is in its fourth year); educators have shared how amazing these experiences are for children. The idea is to allow families coming down to see a movie to spend the rest of the day at the TIFF Bell Lightbox viewing this exhibition and participating in various free onsite activities. digiPlaySpace launched just before the March break and it ends along with TIFF Kids.

Tickets for TIFF Kids films cost $13 for adults, $10.50 for students and seniors, and $9 for children, can be purchased from the TIFF Bell Lightbox or online at