The Way of an Indie

Independent Films to Watch at TIFF 18’

Comments on your timeline and your recently watched list suggest that you are a connoisseur of drama, suspense, and a resounding fan of rom-coms. In contrast to the deliciously sharp verbal quips and outrageous turn of events, captured in your few dozen retweets during each episode, a deeper calling to your intellect eventually compels you to seek a little more substance. After all, you realize that you can’t live on reality shows alone.

Decidedly, you take a break from your beloved Netflix, wanting to experience something different. The outcome of this social experiment – you develop an appreciation for documentaries and motion pictures that imitate life, a little more authentically.

Subsequently, you have earned yourself the title of an indie (short for independent) film lover, a distinction reserved for enthusiasts who praise this unprivileged, “life is art,” form of cinema.

If this sounds like your tribe, you’ll want to hurry and join the rest of the world of cinema, heading to Toronto (aka T.O, the 6ix) this week for this year’s Toronto International Film Festival otherwise known as TIFF. Staff and coordinators have already begun to usher in festivities to include its highly anticipated award ceremony, distinguished guests, entertainment, interviews, meet-ups and of course, new and exciting films from all around the world. 

What to Expect

Since the initial TIFF 18’ release, a few weeks ago, several added films joined the original lineup which is likely to exceed 350 films, during its 10-day run.

The red-carpet gala presentations have been known to include Oscar-winning films that have been recognized for their integrity being comparable to the independent film culture. Special presentations allow us to see the work of up-and-coming directors. Several of the film categories will be judged by panel judges to receive TIFF awards.

Fresh new faces, along with a few familiar ones will resonate for fans of actress, Amandla Stenberg from the Hunger Games and actor, Algee Smith who audiences loved in the New Edition Movie, both appearing in the film The Hate U Give which has received a lot of mention after the success of its same-titled book.

Films You Must Watch

Now that you’ve packed your carry-on luggage, you’ll next want to have a strategy to best optimize your time this weekend and enjoy as much of the fun-packed festivities as possible. And there’s a lot to do and see! Be sure to pre-plan. Start with some of these anticipated film picks and festivities before you touch down on Canadian soil.

Here’s an abbreviated list of the films and events you’ll most definitely want to check out while you’re there.

On the TIFF website, you can also preview plenty of trailers. Many of these exciting films are categorized by programs: Contemporary World Cinema, Discovery, Special Presentations, Gala Presentations, and the Masters.

Contemporary World Cinema

All These Creatures

Short Film by Australia's Charles Williams is the visually rich and emotionally charged story of an adolescent struggling to connect to a father who is being consumed by infestations that may exist both outside and within him.


Fig Tree

Aäläm-Wärqe Davidian’s feature debut, set at the end of the Ethiopian Civil War, follows an Israeli teenage girl as she attempts to save her Christian boyfriend from being drafted, even as she and her family are poised to flee the country.

Special Presentations

A Faithful Man

Louis Garrel showcases his sophomore directorial debut in which he also plays the main character, Abel, a Parisian whose girlfriend, Marianne (Laetitia Casta), tells him in the first scene that she is pregnant, but not by him, and is leaving him and marrying the father.

If Beale Street Could Talk

Director Barry Jenkins’ ambitious follow-up to Moonlight adapts James Baldwin’s poignant novel about a woman fighting to free her falsely accused husband from prison before the birth of their child.

Monsters and Men

Reinaldo Marcus Greene paints a familiar voice and picture of Black Lives Matter. Things are good for Manny (Anthony Ramos). He, his wife and daughter are expecting another baby. Working a new security job, he witnesses a Big D, a neighborhood fixture, be shot and killed while resisting arrest. Manny captures the moment using his cell phone- struggling with what he knows, he feels obligated to share the video, considering the consequences.

Gala Presentations

The Hate U Give

A timely commentary in the Black Lives Matter era, George Tillman, Jr.'s adaptation of the novel by Angie Thomas follows, Starr (Amandla Stenberg) who lives two lives. In her working-class neighborhood, she is "version one" at home among family and friends, just being her teenage black girl self. At school, she is "version two", code-switching her speech and behavior to fit in with the rich, white world of her classmates. One night back in the neighborhood she reconnects with her childhood sweetheart, Khalil (Algee Smith, New Edition Movie). A blissful ride turns ugly when their car is pulled over by police and Khalil makes one wrong move.

First Man

The Academy Award-winning team of director Damien Chazelle and star Ryan Gosling (La La Land) reunites for this biopic on the adventures and life of Neil Armstrong, from his entry into NASA's astronaut program in 1961 to his epoch-making walk on the moon eight years later.


A heavyweight cast — including Viola Davis, Daniel Kaluuya, Liam Neeson, Jacki Weaver, Colin Farrell, and Michelle Rodriguez — propels Steve McQueen’s white-knuckle thriller (co-written by Gone Girl’s Gillian Flynn) about four women left in a deadly lurch when their criminally connected husbands are all killed.)

Master’s Program

Ash is Purest White

Set in 2001, Jia Zhang-ke creates film. Qiao lives in a town tumbling into economic decline. She is hardly concerned since her boyfriend is a dashing gangster, Bin, who works for a corrupt property developer. After his boss is murdered, Bin ascends in rank and finds himself vulnerable to rival hostilities. The couple is arrested and Qiao takes the heat. She gets put away for five years. Qiao emerges from prison to find her world has transformed. Qiao seeks revenge, but more importantly, she searches for a new identity in this changing China.

Sideline Festival Line-Ups

In addition to the films featured throughout the weekly online schedule, TIFF announced several sideline events like a Conversation with Academy Award-Winner Mahershala Ali (Hidden Figures), and Toronto on the Rise gathering at the TIFF Bell Lightbox.

In Conversation With…
Mahershala Ali

Dubbed as one of Hollywood’s brightest stars, and rightfully so. You may recall his role in House of Cards, for which he received an Emmy nomination and his much-celebrated part in the film Moonlight which appeared at the TIFF in 2016 later earning him An Oscar win for Best Supporting Actor. Ali who joined Marvel's series, Luke Cage has also appeared in
Hidden Figures and Roxanne Roxanne.

Refinery29 Festival Rooftop

Toronto on the Rise: Building a Legacy for Toronto Talent in Hollywood

Meet up with fellow film festival attendees at the TIFF Bell Lightbox for an intimate panel and meet-and-greet featuring Toronto’s brightest up-and-coming stars. The discussion will focus on building a legacy for Toronto’s talent, locally and abroad, and on how these stars are supporting each other to make Toronto a world leader in fostering fresh, young talent.

This is a free ticketed event.

What Every Indie Film-Lover Will Know

With your passport in hand, ready to join elite cinematic scholars, you’ll also want to better understand the passion behind indie films. For many aspiring actors, directors, and producers who are attempting to launch a meaningful career in cinema, a film festival of this caliber is one of the most sought-after and long-anticipated events.

Many well-known actors on the big screen got their start due to the hand-to-plow credits from independent films. Nonetheless, more than most are indebted to the experience and the true appreciation of cinematography.

Namrata Joshi, at Hindu Weekend, describes the importance of this much anticipated celebration of art and life on screen, stating “Over the years, TIFF has been known for plurality, diversity, and inclusivity. From big ticket films and future Oscar contenders to rank newcomers and independent voices, and documentaries to shorts, this festival believes in giving equal opportunity to varied cinematic expressions.”

The TIFF film selections represent nearly one-hundred countries, and an estimated forty percent of them are directed by women.

If you are relatively new to independent film, relax, there is something exciting for every indie. This artistic form of “moving images” encompasses many genres and has a vast scope of content ranging from social justice, romance, to suspense and even thriller. Different than its big office-box counterpart, less marginalized films operate on a significantly smaller budget which in effect allows the auteur, or author of the film, to rely on non-aesthetics like natural lighting and working on actual location minus the staged set.

The result is the most unadulterated kind of film that does not preclude respect for both its originality and undergraduate-like craftsmanship. This can sometimes appear from an unsteady camera lens moving in on the subject’s facial interpretation, having to read the translation in subscript, or relishing basic cinematography in brutal black and white color.

Other times it is simply the film’s forgiving nature to capture a blemish, a tear in a garment, and soot over a city skyline, that holds us in a trance. Filming independently is complicated in its layers of humanity, using the simplest camera angles, scripts, and celebrated flaws.

For many critics, the indie experience is as much about the gratification as its freedom to venture off script. This deliberate method of engaging viewers away from the almost predictable plots we have become accustomed to seeing in mainstream film – is a marvel way to appreciate film.

No matter if you’re watching an independent film at a local film school or a decaying theatre in the square of town with a moniker displaying off-brand features, there is something undeniable about the experience. Maybe it’s the gritty, unapologetic characters who are likened to complete strangers we see every day in passing. The ones who intrigue us enough to ponder the weight of their lives, but never stop to meet.

Apart from the empathy, we gain for individuals through their intimate portrait, irrespective of where they come from, we sneak a glance into the mindset, impulses and unearth some of the internal struggles of people, who we find, after all, are not so different from us.

The Toronto International Film Festival is a wonderful place for any new indie as well as those who are veterans, to get their fill of artistry in motion. Whether you decide on a solo trip or attend TIFF 18’ with a small group of friends or colleagues, it will surely be an experience to remember. You’ll want to take plenty of selfies, pics, and feedback to share.

Feel free to pick your own festival winners; be sure to keep tabs on the films you love most. Earn gloating points now for when you tell everyone later, “I knew that film was great before the Oscars!”