In a city oversaturated by film festivals, it is nearly impossible to find a festival that isn’t somehow derivative of others. While many festivals have something to offer to a small, niche audience, it often seems like it’s all been done. And yet, occasionally, you find something wholly unique; something that suggests that, not only is there no similar festival in Toronto, it may well be the only festival of its kind in the world. That festival, in this case, is Toronto’s annual What The Film Festival (a name which, at the very least, is incredibly fun to say).
This festival first came to my attention when their lineup included a pay-to-leave screening at the then recently-renamed Dundas Video, where a small entrance fee was held hostage by a steady stream of unsalvageable crap (which, in this case, is not an insult towards the programmers). Realizing that there were programmers out there willing to show awfulness made me want to check out the festival, which is when I realized that this wasn’t just a celebration of garbage, but rather a celebration of the outsider and the eccentric.
Perhaps the closest to a term for this pseudo-genre would come in the form of Jeffrey Sconce’s paracinema, a cinema that exists outside of established and mainstream cinematic conventions. The films here run the gamut from idiosyncratic and unusual to inept and delusional. Such a festival could champion everyone from Eugene Green to Tommy Wiseau, from Andrzej Zulawski to Ed Wood. On top of this, the WTFilm Fest also gives a platform to restorations of older films which were, almost by definition, not afforded an audience in their times.
So, what is on the slate this year at Toronto’s Royal Cinema? A similar spectrum of works. On one side, there is a sorely overdue retrospective of the works of Sarah Jacobson, an underground punk filmmaker unfortunately taken far before her time. Her two completed works are shown in one program, with her legendary I Was a Teenage Serial Killer, a feminist tale of a man-killing female serial killer, followed by her more brash feature Mary Jane’s Not a Virgin Anymore, a day in the life story about the employees of a small movie theatre, filled to the brim with 90s angst, music, riot grrl feminism and Jello Biafra! If you can only catch one screening here, make it this one on Sunday, March 3 (7:00 p.m).
On the other end of the spectrum exist films like Strike Dear Mistress, and Cure His Heart, a film whose pros begin and end with the title, but it is perhaps that amateurish quality that would make it worth a watch in the first place. This film about the familial struggles of hotel proprietors seems as if it was filmed while everyone involved was in a deep hypnotic trance; the prolific director, Mickey Reece, included. This leads to a lot of affectless sequences, including the funniest cancer diagnosis this side of the 21st century. Of course, this film may not seem like a worthwhile view at a more “respectable” festival, but a fest like WTFilm recognizes the importance of celebrating experimentation, whether successful or not. If this sounds up your alley, you can watch Strike Dear Mistress, and Cure His Heart on Saturday, March 2 (5:00 p.m).
Other works appearing at this year’s festival include a retrospective of unashamedly-weird Canadian kiddie fare, Cowboy Who, the four-hour long, two-part epic A Bread Factory, whose trailer will leave you even more confused about what it is than you were before you knew it existed, Surfer Teen Confronts Fear which is being advertised as a worthy successor to The Room, and a restoration of Battle for the Lost Planet. WTFilm Fest is also showing a new film from Damon Packard, but there are some depths that this critic will not sink to.
For more information on the festival, visit the official What The Film Festival website.
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