The Blue Mountain Film Festival (BMFF) returns to Blue Mountain Village next week (June 1-4), with 25 films from 23 countries—delivering on their promise to See The World Through Blue.  

The Fest launched in 2022, when COVID was still a significant concern, and the resurgence of the arts was still unknown. It was a risk, but Festival & Artistic Director Helen du Toit had a hunch that there was a desire and need for something new. “We felt like the region was ripe for a big cultural event,” she tells me. Luckily her instincts were spot-on: “This year we’ve doubled the numbers.”

If anyone can grow a major arts event from the ground up, it’s du Toit, who helped transform the Palm Springs Film Festival into the buzz-machine that it is today. Her vision for Blue Mountain is ambitious, but this year’s exceptional lineup of programming—as selected by her and Penelope Bartlett (who joined BMFF this year, and was most recently the Director of Programming for the Criterion Channel)—is proof that both the industry and audiences are ready for a different kind of fest. 

“There’s a charm factor in its smallness, filmmakers really got a chance to hang out and talk to the audience,” says du Toit, citing Telluride Film Festival as a strong influence. Unlike TIFF, Tribeca, or many of the other established urban festivals that offer hundreds of films to choose from, du Toit is opting for a “less is more” approach, offering a tightly curated selection of films. “With 25 great films, you’re going to have a really good film-going experience as an audience member.”

The fest will open with fine dining comedy Two Many Chefs. Titles on our must-see list include Marie Clements’ Bones of Crow, and indie gems F*cking Bornholm by Anna Kazejak and The Ordinaries by Sophie Linnenbaum. 

Documentary lovers can check out Becky Hunter’s Fashion Reimagined, Anna Hints’ Smoke Sauna Sisterhood, Oliver Stone’s Nuclear Now or Philippe Falardeau’s Lac-Mégantic—This Is Not An Accident, which recently took home the 2023 Hot Docs Audience Award. Legendary filmmaker Mary Harron (American Psycho, The Notorious Bettie Page) will be in attendance for the screening of her film Daililand, which tells the story of the later years of the strange and fascinating marriage between Salvador Dalí and his tyrannical wife, Gala. 

European producer Annemiek Van Der Hell will also be at BMFF to discuss Silence of the Tides, directed by Pieter-Rim De Kroon, which du Toit describes as “breathtaking”. “It’s an incredibly beautiful film that is set in the Wadden Sea around Holland and it’s just stunningly beautiful… a visual meditation washing over you – it’s gorgeous.” 

Knowing that the region is also a hotbed for avid cyclists, du Toit was thrilled to lock in The Last Rider from filmmaker Alex Homes, about American Greg LeMond’s shocking win of the 1986 Tour de France. Truly, there’s something for everyone. There’s even a Secret Screening, which du Toit couldn’t elaborate on, but hinted with a mischievous grin that it’s a big scoop. The film comes with a warning: “There’s only one rule at the Secret Screening club… You don’t talk about the Secret Screening.” The only clue we received is that the subject matter is extremely topical. Curious?

With such a mix of choices, and easy access to screenings, BMFF is also a great entry point for those who’ve never experienced a film festival. “Film festivals are different from other cultural activities. With a film festival, there’s something in it for everyone and it’s a low ticket price to get into a screening. Whereas if you’re going to something else that costs $100 just to participate, then it’s harder. You can experiment at a film festival.”

Without a doubt, du Toit has created something desirable for film lovers, be they local Georgian Bay residents, or weekend visitors looking to add a dynamic layer to their stay, but BMFF is quickly becoming a favourite for the film industry too, with many filmmakers making the trek north for a few rowdy nights to network and hit up excellent talks and workshops offered through the BMFF Creative Forum. 

Chandler Levack (I Like Movies) and Shasha Nakhai (Scarborough) will be speaking at the Next Gen Creators Predict the Future panel. Comedians Paul Sun-Hyung Lee (Kim’s Convenience, Avatar: The Last Airbender), and Meredith MacNeill (Baroness Von Sketch Show, Pretty Hard Cases) will also be in attendance, breaking down the art of comedy in Crack Me Up: The Art of the Belly Laugh. 

And in a refreshing twist from any film fest event we’ve seen, Atom Egoyan (The Sweet Hereafter, Ararat) will also be descending on Blue to lead a hike up the mountain, promising to share behind-the-scenes war stories with fellow filmmakers. “For a lot of people coming to the forum, that’s the game changer for them. They get up here and it’s the wow factor of nature that you can’t get in the city.” 

Blue Mountain, and the entire Georgian Bay Region, has long been associated with outdoor recreation, a popular destination for skiing, cycling, hiking and paddling. But it is also an arts hub, attracting many full-time artists, creatives and culture seekers, who enjoy the serenity and inspiration that the forests and shorelines provide. 

Du Toit has created something big and exciting and new, but in a way, she’s also tapped into a thriving arts community that has always been here, patiently waiting for an event like BMFF to bring everyone together for four fun days of nonstop film, connection, and discussion. “There’s a lot of magic in this region. We hope to build it into a buzzy festival that’s all about film lovers and filmmakers having a grand time together, wagging their tails about film.”