This Weekend in Toronto: The Canadian Sport Film Festival!

The 8th annual Canadian Sport Film Festival (CSFF) is back from May 20 – 22 with an exciting line-up of feature and short films. All screenings are being hosted at TIFF Bell Lightbox and tickets are still available for all screenings. For those of you unfamiliar with CSFF, the festival “brings together the theatre of sport and the medium of film to tell unique, provocative and passionate human stories from around the world. CSFF filmgoers are exposed to the stories beyond the scoreboard, behind the camera and told with a critical lens” (CSFF About Page).

What I love about film festivals, especially those that are local, is that they feature independent and/or grassroots filmmakers who pour their time, energy and love into the work. The results are often spectacular with film subjects being given room to reveal themselves as complex, and their circumstances as nuanced. Put simply, mainstream media just doesn’t give you the same substance and content that film festivals do.

While every film at CSFF looks amazing, a few standouts (summaries courtesy of CSFF):

EASTERN – Canada, 2016, 43 min, dir: Luke Galati
Students at a storied Toronto high school with a great basketball pedigree, four young men representing Eastern Commerce find themselves competing for the school’s last chance at championship glory. They are trying to write a memorable end to one of Canada’s most historic high school basketball programs.

IN THE TURN – US/Canada, 2015, 93 min, dir: Erica Tremblay
Crystal, a 10-year-old transgender girl growing up in northern Ontario, discovers acceptance and confidence in the world of roller derby. Her story reflects the influence of the Vagine Regime in providing a space of acceptance and empowerment for other transgender, lesbian, and queer roller derby skaters from LA and San Francisco to Austin, Brooklyn and Minneapolis.

ZANZIBAR SOCCER DREAMS – Tanzania/UK, 2016, 63 min, dir: Florence Ayisi & Catalin Brylla
Eight years after the inaugural Canadian Sport Film Festival hosted the Canadian premiere of  Zanzibar Soccer Queens, CSFF is proud to present the world premiere of its sequel. The new film highlights the progress achieved by women determined to play soccer on the island and their transition from social outcasts to ambassadors for Zanzibar. Yet, even as the school system is allowing girls to play soccer, religious, gender, and cultural challenges remain.

BOXING FOR FREEDOM – Spain, 2015, 53 min, dir: Juan Antonio Moreno & Silvia Venegas
Sadaf Rahimi and her sister, Shabnam, are the best female boxers in Afghanistan, aiming to compete in the London 2012 Olympics. But the challenges of being physically active women in their country persist.


TIFF 2015: Wrestling, Horse-Racing, Cycling and Boxing

The Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) begins tomorrow and excitement is abuzz about the inevitable rush of stars, screenings and parties. While celebrity featured films are what draw crowds, film buffs will always have vast options at TIFF as it consistently puts together a comprehensive program. Below are a few standout films featuring sport that may very well be in contention for awards here and elsewhere (all film summaries are courtesy of

Gala Presentation: THE PROGRAM – Stephen Frears (The Queen, Philomena) directs Ben Foster in this thriller about disgraced cycling champion Lance Armstrong’s doping scandal and downfall.

Masters Presentation: BLEAK STREET LA CALLE DE LA AMARGURA – Mexican maestro Arturo Ripstein (Deep Crimson) directs this true-crime story about the bizarre 2009 murders of dwarf wrestling brothers Alberto and Alejandro Jiménez.

TIFF Docs Presentation: DARK HORSE – Filmmaker Louise Osmond follows the story of a group of friends and neighbours in a small Welsh town who pool their modest resources to invest in a racehorse they dub Dream Alliance, and soon find themselves breaking social barriers by competing against some of the wealthiest horse owners in the UK.

Contemporary World Cinema Presentation: KOZA – This subtle fusion of documentary and fiction follows a young Roma boxer as he embarks on a tragicomic return to the ring in order to pay for his girlfriend’s abortion.

Trailers for the above can be viewed on their respective pages, which I have linked to their titles. While tickets to TIFF tend to be pricey, the more “unusual” or “foreign” the film, the more worthwhile in seeing it as films like that tend to disappear post-festival. Happy watching!

Canadian Sport Film Festival: June 5-7 in Toronto

The 7th annual Canadian Sport Film Festival (CSFF) is a low-budget, grassroots initiative that started in 2008 by Russell Field, an assistant professor at the University of Manitoba and a former film review editor for the Journal of Sport History. Screenings are at TIFF Bell Lightbox and CSFF will present 11 feature films and 16 short films including Winning Girl* and Coming Back to the Hoop*. Tickets are cheap: regular $12 and students/seniors $7, and can be purchased online. The thing I love about these kinds of film festivals is the chance to see a rare, independent piece of genius.

*WINNING GIRL follows the 4-year journey of this part-Polynesian female judo and wrestling phenomenon from Hawai‘i and her family. It tells the story of an elite athlete on her ascent, a girl facing the challenges of growing up and an entire family dedicated to a single dream.

*COMING BACK to the HOOP is about Jane Pittman, a promising basketball star at her small town high school in the 1960s, who ran off the court during a holiday tournament game never to return … until now. When Jane stumbles across the NOVA United Senior Women’s Basketball Association, old passions are reignited and Jane reconnects with her love of the game.