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How do you help ensure access to one of the world’s most prestigious and reputable film festivals for equity-deserving communities? By working alongside them.

Enter the Visa Sharing the Screen initiative, now in its second year.

This program, co-created by Visa Canada and the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) – one of the largest publicly attended festivals in the world – works with equity-deserving community groups in the Greater Toronto Area to provide tickets to year-round TIFF programming. This includes festival tickets, exclusive events, exhibitions, workshops, public art activations and creator talks that are tailored to different equity-deserving communities, such as Black and Indigenous folks, people of colour, seniors, youth, newcomers, 2SLGBTQ+ communities, people with disabilities, and more.

“This program is a relatively new piece, but we are looking at this holistically and we’re in this long term,” says Heather Nobes, vice-president of marketing for Visa Canada. “Things start small, but many drops fill a bucket over time… fundamentally it’s about creating opportunities for more people to engage with the arts.”

This year, 500 tickets to TIFF 2023 screenings will be distributed to the 30+ community organizations working with the initiative, including Black Women Film! Canada, BIPOC TV and Film, NIA Centre for the Arts, Youth Assisting Youth, Say Somaali, Regent Park Film Festival, Woodgreen Senior Active Living Centre, Native Child and Family Services and Skills for Change, among others. And they’re always looking to collaborate with new organizations.

Not only does the initiative provide access to equity-deserving groups who may not have attended the festival before, it helps connect members of these communities – such as 2SLGBTQ+ youth organization Supporting Our Youth and the multi-service urban Indigenous agency Native Child and Family Services – with representations of themselves on screen.

Members from the community organizations that are part of the initiative will have the opportunity to attend more than 40 screenings during the 11 days of TIFF 2023, including the premieres of the Elliot Page-produced queer cheerleader drama Backspot, Taika Waititi’s comedy Next Goal Wins about the American Samoa soccer team’s attempt to make the World Cup, as well as a handful of episodes from Bria Mack Gets A Life, a new Canadian series about a young Black woman entering the workforce.

Other anticipated screenings include The Boy and the Heron, Les Indésirables, Rustin, Fitting In, The Burial and Concrete Utopia.

On September 10, the fourth day of the festival, one of the premiere events for Visa Sharing the Screen is a creator talk with Fawzia Mirza, a Canadian-born, award-winning actor-comedian-writer-producer, who is bringing her feature debut, The Queen of My Dreams, to this year’s fest.

The coming-of-age film follows a queer Muslim grad student as she flies back to her ancestral home in Pakistan following the sudden death of her father. As she clashes with her mother, the film flips back and forth between “present day” 1999 and flashbacks to her mother’s youth. Expected attendees at the world premiere and intimate creator talk event will include 2SLGBTQ+ and South Asian community partners. Following the moderated conversation, there will be an audience Q&A.

The TIFF team co-creates these special film experiences in order to meet the specific needs of each equity-deserving group.

“With Visa’s support, we are able to connect 500+ community members with creators, films and social experiences at the festival,” says Keith Bennie, senior director of public programming at TIFF.

“At these talks and screenings, participants have access to the best in international cinema, leading filmmakers and the chance to network with the film industry,” he adds. “It unlocks opportunities for participants to foster connection, take creative inspiration and consider the next step in their career.”

Visa is no stranger to providing positive representation of underrepresented groups to future generations of Canadians, most recently as the worldwide partner of the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023.

“We know that if kids see themselves in athletes, they’ll believe there is a chance for them too. If you can see it, you can be it,” Nobes says. “It’s no different in the arts.”

As for what the future holds for Visa Sharing the Screen, Nobes has high hopes for a long-standing initiative. “There’s no shortage of programming that TIFF has, and I would love to see us… make these events more accessible to everyone.”

Advertising feature produced by Globe Content Studio with Visa. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved.

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