We’re a movie-loving family. We subscribe to Netflix, Crave, Disney+, CBC Gem and MUBI. On any given night, we can choose from thousands of film titles: blockbusters, indie gems, hard-hitting docs, foreign cinema. It seems excessive (it is), but we’re not alone: more than 80% of Canadians subscribe to a streaming service, and more than 20% of those aged 35-54, pay for four or more subscriptions. 

This cozy home setup, with its convenience and abundance of choice, is what drove Helen du Toit to do the exact opposite: launch a film festival, instigating a move from the couch to the theatre.

Du Toit, a film festival veteran, most notably recognized for her work as the Artistic Director of the Palm Springs Film Festival, took a big risk when she launched the Blue Mountain Film + Media Festival in 2022. The world was only beginning to emerge from COVID; arts & culture had not bounced back. But she knew there was a hunger, a desire, and a need, and this weekend, the much-loved little fest turns three.


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After the pandemic, people realized God, I have to get out of the house!” du Toit chuckles, fully admitting that after two years of rolling lockdowns, she too was desperate for community. Du Toit also understands the healing powers of a live audience.

“There’s an exchange that happens, a contagion that happens,” says du Toit, describing the energy shifts that happen within the theatre setting, but also before and after screenings. “You meet people. You talk to people. You have a conversation, and you debate. There’s a domino effect.”

The art of conversation, the ability to share varying opinions respectfully, and hold multiple truths, has become increasingly challenging in the smartphone era, where people have swapped in-person exchanges for quippy tweets and polarizing comments.

Sometimes I go on public transit and I sit and I watch a train full of people on their phones and it really makes me sad,” says du Toit, who considers phone addiction to be a false sense of intimacy, or a vastly different way to consume content than a live audience—what she describes as an “empathy machine.”

“It’s a very different thing to watch something on the news about a country versus watching a film by a filmmaker made in that country, and about that country. You feel what’s going on for them. You can share their plight, they’re no longer “othered”, you’re immersed in their story when you’re an audience member.”

For du Toit, the benefits of festival life extend far beyond the screenings. But she also knew that the South Georgian Bay region was hungry for contemporary culture, especially considering its recent growth, with many Toronto weekenders making the permanent move north. 

Last Summer

This year’s lineup consists of 22 feature films stemming from 26 countries, and 9 shorts. Buzzy titles include Happy Clothes; A Film About Patricia Field (Michael Selditch), Last Summer (Catherine Breillat), The Queen of My Dreams (Fawzia Mirza), and The Taste of Things (Tran Anh Hung).

“As we settle into our annual event, it has become more and more evident that there is a strong appetite for international cinema as well as Canadian stories, and this year we are incredibly honoured to showcase such a stellar lineup of films,” says du Toit.

As the film industry continues to find its footing in these post pandemic years, it’s encouraging to see small festivals succeed, and especially interesting when success is found far from the epicentre of Canadian arts and culture. 

The Blue Mountain Film + Media Festival is proof that where there is passion and community, there is fertile ground for growth. The energy is out there. 

 “When you’re in a big dark theatre and everyone’s attention is on the screen and you’re experiencing something together, it resonates.” 

The Blue Mountain Film + Media Festival runs from May 30th – June 2nd. See the full lineup here.