Inside Out Toronto LGBT Film Festival
Andria Wilson is the Executive Director of Inside Out, Canada's largest LGBT Film Festival. A recent full-time resident of Toronto, she was an integral contributor to the arts and LGBTQ communities in Atlantic Canada for the last 15 years, holding key leadership roles at the Atlantic Film Festival, East Coast Music Association, TD Halifax Jazz Festival, Creative Nova Scotia Awards, and with renowned international touring company 2b theatre. In 2011 she co-founded OUTeast, Atlantic Canada's Queer Film Festival, and remains a key advisor of the festival.
Interview conducted on 08/28/2017 (Telephone interview)
throwdown815: How did you get involved with film festivals in the first place?
Andria Wilson (Inside Out): Absolutely. I worked as an actor when I was young, in theatre. Then, I started producing and production managing and that sort of led into touring theatre producing, and then event producing, which is what really brought me into film festival work. So the first festival that I worked at was the Atlantic Film Festival in Nova Scotia. I worked there for six years. That's actually where I met my current colleague, our director of programming, Andrew Murphy, who also used to work there at Atlantic, as well as our programming manager, Jenna Dufton. So it was a really incredible first festival to come into at that point. All of the people that were involved at that time were just incredible mentors to a lot of us that have gone on to work at other festivals across the country. Then, in 2011, with Jenna Dufton and another woman, Krista Davis, we started OUTeast, which is Atlantic Canada's LGBT film festival. Then, I started my work at Inside Out just not quite one year ago - November 1st.
td815: And is this your first time working in Toronto?
AW: No.,I had done contract work at both TIFF and Hot Docs. And when I was working in theatre producing, I had a number of shows here in Toronto. So I was familiar with the landscape and with the ecology of film festivals in Toronto, as well as with Inside Out itself because Andrew (Murphy) had started at Inside Out in 2012. So I had been attending the festival over the years as well since he had taken over as Director of Programming.
td815: Compared with your experiences out East, how do you think Toronto differs in terms of running a film festival?
AW: I mean, the film festival ecology in Toronto is really like no where else in the world. Because of TIFF and Hot Docs really, and the defining roles that they've played in this market as well as, of course, national and international markets, Toronto is truly an incredible place to work in the festival world. Inside Out is the third largest film festival in Toronto behind those two festivals, we occupy a really interesting space, kind of in between those juggernaut festivals. All of the incredible and varied festivals that exist in Toronto, it's truly incredible to see not just the amount that exists, but the quality and the communities that support each of those festivals that we have here.
td815: So that kind of brings me to my next question - how do you think Inside Out fits into all the other festivals that run during the year in Toronto? Specifically, given how big Inside Out is, how does it fit into Toronto's film festival circuit both in terms of all the other festivals and even just the other LGBT film festivals that run throughout the year?
AW: I think that the really beautiful thing about a city, not just a city like Toronto, but with the city of Toronto specifically, is that there is room for everyone at the festival table. I truly believe that. So there's a space that Inside Out has grown and are now almost 28 years old. There's a space that we can occupy and a kind of work that we can do that really is unique to us. That doesn't change the need or the demand for the work that all these other festivals of various sizes are doing. So one of the big focuses that we're really doubling down on at Inside Out is in developing our industry initiatives and professional development programs for LGBT filmmakers in Canada and also internationally. I think that's a place where an organization that is as well resourced and that's the size and level of sustainability that we are at, that's really a role that we can take on that will also serve the community in Toronto in a larger way.
td815: And do you think Inside Out has changed a lot over the years, or even during the time when you've been involved with the organization?
AW: I absolutely do. I think as things begin to shift in our industry in terms of who has the power to tell stories and to actually make film, from along that same trajectory we see film festivals changing and evolving. We have to be flexible and we have to be tuned into what is happening in our industry, and what's happening in our community. In the case of the LGBT community, we, I think, in Canada have to be incredibly aware of what is going on in the rest of the world and how we fit in. And the content that we present as a film festival fits into that international conversation. So absolutely, we are changing and evolving to better serve all of those communities. The local community and the global community.
td815: Okay, in terms of promoting local artists, I'm just going through the schedule for the 2017 edition and see that there's an emphasis on promoting more local talent, in addition to international artists.
AW: Absolutely. One of the things that remains critically important to Inside Out is really amplifying the voices of local Toronto based, Ontario based, Canadian LGBTQ artists. Some of the new industry initiatives that we're taking on are specifically designed to not just showcase the work of these filmmakers, but to create opportunities for them to make more work. Then, for that work to be seen. So for example, this year we started our film financing forum, which gave seven Ontario LGBTQ producers the opportunity to attend meetings in order to secure financing for feature films. So we're excited not just about spreading the word about the work that people are showcasing at our festival, which we feel is top-notch, but also about creating opportunities for them to make more and more work.
td815: Something I find fascinating about, I guess, most film festivals across the city maybe with the exception of TIFF, is they're all theme based. So in terms of Inside Out, when it comes to promoting film versus promoting the LGBT community, what would you say the festival leans more towards? I know the obvious answer is that it aims to promote both of these things in combination, but would you say that it leans more towards promoting one versus the other?
AW: That's a good question. I think the really incredible thing about being a queer cultural presenter is that we're able to present content and have conversations in a way that can be challenging at times, for say, queer advocacy organizations because so much about our identities is so politicized. So by showing it through an artistic lens, through a filmmaking lens, through having the filmmakers and attendants to talk about their work, we're able to ground that and create a sense of empathy that, of course, highlights the incredible artistic work that's happening, but also it's furthering the activism and the advocacy that people are doing within our own communities. So I think they're absolutely tied together. They're sort of 'you can't have one without the other', but I think the more that we focus on really highlighting as many diverse stories from our community as possible, it just makes a stronger film program too.
td815: I usually like to ask a couple questions about the current film festival session, but I see on the website that you guys are already having submissions for the 2018 editions! So maybe a better question is what things are you excited about for the 2018 edition of the festival?
AW: I mean, I think we're incredibly excited about, as I said, our industry initiatives and professional development initiatives. I know that some of the folks, when they're coming to see a film screening at the festival, might not be aware that some of that is happening, too. But the really exciting thing about those kinds of initiatives is that it all feeds into the content that we're able to show. So the more we're supporting artists, the more we're creating opportunities for more films to get made, the better experience we're able to create for our audience, too. Whether that means bringing in more guests, having more 'in conversation with' type events, or panel discussions around film or issues raised by a film. That's something that really, really excites us.
td815: And are there specific film festivals around the city that you attend regularly? Or are you usually too busy with Inside Out?
AW: You know what, one of the beautiful perks of working in the festival world is actually getting to attend other festivals. So right now, we're of course gearing up for TIFF, which is always a really exciting opportunity for us. They have a great slate of LGBT titles this year as well. We always attend Reel Asian and imagineNATIVE. I'm a big genre fan, too. So I love Toronto After Dark. We travel a lot outside of Toronto as well to attend festivals. So sometimes we're getting to enjoy a lot more festivals outside of Toronto or outside of Canada. I just got back from the Vancouver Queer film festival. Before that, our team was at Outfest in LA. We attend Sundance and Berlinale. Yeah, we're very lucky to get to be in those spaces. No matter where you go around the world, there's kind of those unifying festival experiences that you have. That's a huge part of what keeps us doing what we do.
td815: Sounds like an awesome job.
AW: I can't complain!
td815: And final question, what would you say is your favourite film festival experience you've ever had?
AW: Oh, that's such a tough question. There's so many different things, so many incredible first experiences. Just this year, opening night of Inside Out, standing on stage with Andrew to welcome a sold out audience to a screening. But also this year when we had our first session of the finance forum event and there's only 15 people in the room, but just being able to be in that room and see the potential of that. I mean, I have always loved attending other people's festivals, and just getting that opportunity to sit in the house and actually watch a film. That's something that perhaps I think a lot of folks don't know, is that as festival organizers, festival producers, directors, we rarely get to see any content in our own festival. Most times when we are watching content, it's at our laptop at our desk while we have three other windows open. So for me, any time I get the experience to attend another festival and sit in a packed house and see a really powerful film, in particular an LGBT festival or an LGBT film in a mainstream festival. And to feel that reaction of the crowd and be a part of that, there's really nothing like it.