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CFI patrons await a screening at the European Union Film Festival in the Ottawa Art Gallery. Photo provided.

Future of Ottawa: Film Festivals with Tom McSorley

By Apartment613 on March 16, 2021

This week in the Future of Ottawa series, we’re taking a deep dive into Ottawa’s film industry—what it’s like now and where it’s headed. Read on for a guest post from Tom McSorley on the future of film festivals, or read posts from Emily Ramsay on indie filmmakers, Stephanie Davy on the film production industry, or Bruce White on indie cinemas.

Tom McSorley is Executive Director of the Canadian Film Institute, teaches Film Studies at Carleton University, and is the weekly film critic on CBC Radio’s “Ottawa Morning.” His first volume of poetry, “Partial Clarities,” was published last month by Elboro Press, New York City.

Tom McSorley is the Executive Director of the Canadian Film Institute. Photo provided.

Apt613: What is the current landscape for film festivals in Ottawa?

Tom McSorley: In addition to the Canadian Film Institute (CFI) programming, there is plenty of excellent festival fare in Ottawa throughout the year, from the One World Film Festival, to Asinabka Film and Media Festival, to the Mirror Mountain Festival, to name but a few. Our organization, as well as these ones, will showcase local productions and emerging local talents wherever and whenever possible.

The largest film festival in Ottawa is the CFI’s Ottawa International Animation Festival; it’s the largest animation festival in North America and the second largest in the world.

Our newest festival, the International Film Festival of Ottawa (IFFO), is intended not only to be a celebration of the best international and Canadian cinema, but also a way to promote the local moving image industry in our city, which is growing every year. In addition to premiere screenings, IFFO’s ‘Screen Summit’ section will offer professional development activities for local producers, directors, and craftspeople.

In 1971, the Canadian Film Institute founded one of the first ever international film festivals in Canada. It was called Film Expo and was held at the National Arts Centre. Fifty years later, the CFI returns with a new event presenting the best films from around the world, IFFO.

For Ottawa film buffs, what will festivals look like in 2021?

For most of the year, festivals will remain primarily a virtual experience. Depending on when this accursed virus abates, we could also see what will likely be the future paradigm for festivals: a combination of live events and online screenings and other content. This hybrid model can, if done right, offer the best of both worlds.

CFI patrons await a screening at the European Union Film Festival in the Ottawa Art Gallery. Photo provided.

Where in your wildest dreams could IFFO go in your lifetime?

We want it to become a festival that will offer an engaging, exciting, creative hothouse experience every spring that will attract filmmakers from around the world to meet Ottawa audiences and Ottawa filmmakers. It will never match larger industry-driven festivals like Cannes, Berlin, and Toronto, but we dream that it will evolve into something resembling Sundance or SXSW.

What is the best innovation to take place in film festivals since the pandemic started affecting Ottawa?

The user-friendly online streaming platform we are using. The whole industry has had to pivot quickly to programming online, and thankfully we are able to continue providing our content virtually. It’s been a lot of work, but it’s also been amazing.

Who is the future of film festivals in Ottawa?

Our passionate, curious, incredible Ottawa audiences. Festivals don’t exist without them.

Tell us something you wish somebody told you when you started your career in film festivals.

That it would be very unlikely that I would ever meet Penelope Cruz.


Back in 2015, Apartment613 took a look at the future of Ottawa across several different sectors. In 2021, we’re bringing the series back, asking experts, artists, and community leaders to shed some light on their local field or industry, as it stands now and where they think—or dream—it will go over the next few years. Every week we’ll profile a different cultural sector in Ottawa, leaving no niche unexplored—from social justice to theatre, bars to sports, to the future of the municipality and its natural environs. Keep an eye out for a new batch of posts every Tuesday on Apt613.ca.