Five BSLBT films won awards at the Toronto International Deaf Film and Arts Festival (TIDFAF) last weekend.

Still Here, directed by Louis Neethling, won the best comedy award and Simon Herdman was named in the best directing category for You, Me. The best short documentary award went to Crossing the Divide, directed by Cathy Heffernan. Meanwhile, not one but two awards went to Julian Peedle-Calloo for Five Needles (best drama) and best art direction (Confession).

Other films on show were Departure loungeLittle World and September 11, which all received rapturous applause/hand-waving. 

Cathy Heffernan was at the festival. Here is her report:

The festival opened on a sunny evening with a red carpet event outside the Randolph Theatre, an old converted church, in Toronto’s funky Annex area. People posed for photographs in their glad rags while the media grabbed interviews with filmmakers and festival organisers. After some wine and cheese everyone was ushered into the auditorium where MC Daniel Durant, an actor from Switched at Birth, opened the festival.

Excitingly, Crossing the Divide, my Zoom documentary, was the first film of the evening. It was followed by Judy Lieff’s spectacular feature-length Deaf Jam, which followed a teenager as she learns about ASL poetry and brings it to the spoken word slam scene in New York.

Over the following two days, we were treated to a wide variety of documentaries, dramas and comedies – short and feature-length – from around the world. Other filmmakers also made it to the festival, among them Taha Ghanimi Fard, an animator from Iran, Alejandro Gallardo and Felipe Bonifacion who may be Mexico’s first deaf filmmakers, and Mellissa Gomez, a documentary-maker from Antigua.

British films were praised and lots of people asked about BSLBT and how it was funded. It seems to be a unique venture in the world.

While there were lots of great films, I always love a good documentary and really enjoyed Deaf Jam, Melissa Gomez’s Silent Music, a film about secrets within a family in Antigua which the audience voted as their favourite film and Austin Unbound following a transgender man travelling to San Francisco to have a double mastectomy.

The festival also had an art element with awards presented to the best entries at the prestigious environs parliamentary building in Queens Park. Another chance to dress up and enjoy some wine!  The film awards were presented on the last night at yet another party.

All in all, a very well-organised event funded by several arts bodies in Canada. While there were no Canadian films in the main event there was a high school category and hopefully the training they are getting in school as well as the inspiration from the film festival will breed a new generation of filmmakers in Canada.

The festival started out with no funding in 2006 but Catherine McKinnon and her team have worked hard to bring it up to a professional standard and with each festival they get more funding enabling them to bring it up another level and to bring filmmakers from around the world to Toronto. The 2015 one seems set to be even better - something to look forward to!