As the summer winds down and patio season in Toronto nears its frigid end, the city is as busy as ever. Students return for their fall semester, Torontonians gather for some of the last warm days in the city, and celebrities arrive at Toronto Pearson International Airport because — right, TIFF is in town!

How perfect that it also happens to coincide with the first week of classes! So, as I wait in line for Colette and think about the anthropology class I have to scramble off to when it’s over, I feel surprisingly calm. There’s a certain comfort in TIFF for me; not only am I lucky enough to be a student in this city, but I’ve also had the privilege of growing up in Toronto’s film industry. The festival marks the intersection of my professional life and my life as a Torontonian, and it’s an honour to be able to participate in it from both those standpoints.

This year, I was lucky enough to be a part of the wonderful film Giant Little Ones, which had its world premiere at TIFF. It’s a story about the fluidity of adolescent sexuality and all the bumps and bruises that go along with it. In the days after its first screening, the response has been overwhelming and has reminded me — as is sometimes necessary — of exactly why I love working in film.

From a Canadian actor’s standpoint — oh god, I know, another actor talking about their experience, barf — TIFF holds a near and dear spot in my heart. Growing up, I was always sort of aware of its existence, but I didn’t really understand the hype surrounding it. As I got older and was privileged enough to become more and more involved with the Festival, I realized just how important it was to me as a Canadian in the film industry, and how monumental it has been for spotlighting Canadian film.

If you’ve lived in the city for a while, you know that TIFF brings with it a certain air of excitement and anticipation. Film lovers flood the streets in rush-ticket lines, and it feels like, for one time in the year, all eyes are on Toronto. From my perspective, TIFF is a cultural pillar of this city. People from all walks of life come together in a love for movies — or maybe just to sit in the same theatre as Ryan Gosling — and there’s a sense of unity here that’s more apparent than usual.

The festival brings Toronto together, and as much as the rest of Canada likes to make fun of us for our city slicker ways, it’s hard to deny that TIFF is a big source of national pride. It puts a much needed emphasis on Canadian film and what it has to bring to the cinematic table. TIFF allows Canadian filmmakers to showcase their work on the platform that it deserves — alongside big Hollywood productions, which generally receive twice the funding and access to resources than we do here in Canada. The fact that Canadian films can hold their own against these big-budget movies speaks to the quality and dedication of the work and talent coming out of this country.

TIFF is one of the few times a year that Canadian actors have the chance to reach decisionmakers first hand. More importantly, it gives us a chance to reach them on our own turf. If you know any actors, you know that the general consensus is that if they’re really serious about their career, they’ll eventually make their way down to Los Angeles to work.

Even I have become prey to this framework. But what I love, and what I believe is so important about TIFF, is that it shows that Canadian talent holds the same kind of merit that so many actors worldwide are known for. It puts an emphasis on our work. It gives us a voice in our own home that can then be heard all over the world.

Apart from what TIFF does for the Canadian film industry at large, we can’t forget what the festival is really all about: a genuine love for and celebration of film. The power that movies have to influence people’s lives always astonishes me. I know that sounds kitschy and fairly cliché, but think about the last movie that made you cry, or laugh hysterically, or even just made you question some small aspect of your life.

We may not all be film lovers, but we’ve all definitely been touched by film in some way. TIFF has an amazing way of coming around each year and allowing us all to reconnect with and celebrate film. Moreover, it inspires people to keep creating, and that is what the festival is really all about: inspiring Canadians to keep making good art.

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