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Blue Mountain Film Festival artistic director Helen du Toit.Handout

If you want to stand out in Canada’s crowded film-festival market, there’s no better place to do so than on the top of a mountain. Which is why, for its third edition, the buzzy Blue Mountain Film Festival is rebranding itself and expanding its market reach beyond the world of cinema into television and digital media.

This spring, the Blue Mountain Film + Media Festival (BMFM) will take over the resort town just outside of Collingwood, Ont., with two dedicated programs. The first slate will be an expansion to its Creative Forum, a gathering of top industry players, which will be split in two: the Film & TV forum, which will run May 30-31, and the Digital Media forum, running June 1-2, which will be a partnership with the Buffer Festival, an international digital-video fest that is held annually in Toronto.

“Launching during the pandemic brought some challenges, but we ended up doing surprisingly well for a new event, screening 20 to 25 films over the course of four days, which for a remote place is quite big,” says Helen du Toit, artistic director of BMFM, noting that ticket sales doubled from 2022 to 2023. “But from the beginning, we thought about stretching in more directions than film, and we sense there’s a strong audience.”

The two halves of the newly expanded BMFM will include screenings, panels and networking opportunities (one of which will take place during a ride on Blue Mountain’s gondolas) with some of the industry’s most powerful players, including executives from the major streamers, broadcasters and production companies.

While this year’s Canadian Screen Awards – which were rescheduled from April to May in a last-minute shift this past week – now overlap with the BMFM, the conflict is a kind of happy accident.

“We can now accommodate people who might be up for awards, and we’re very close to Toronto for those who are coming in from other parts of the country,” adds du Toit. “Travelling to film and TV events around the country, or world, can be very expensive for junior and mid-level filmmakers, too.”

As for the new emphasis on digital content creation, du Toit noted that Buffer is “perfectly set up to look at the digital-media landscape, so they can produce a mini-version of their event up here, which helps extend their brand and also attracts that younger demographic of storyteller.”

Confirmed digital-media guests include comedian Tope Babalola (2.1 million TikTok followers), actress/writer Julie Nolke (1.1 million on YouTube), and documentarian Ryan Ng (123,000 on YouTube).

BMFM’s film program – which last year included guest panels featuring Canadian filmmakers Matt Johnson (BlackBerry), Chandler Levack (I Like Movies) and Oscar-winning documentarian Daniel Roher (Navalny) – will be announced in the weeks to come, with du Toit emphasizing that the festival wants to stay true to its international and independent-cinema roots, ensuring that the lineup appeals to both attendees from outside the community and local cinephiles.

“It’s so easy for people to sit in the comfort of their own home today, but we will be showing them new films, and ones that they cannot yet access through the streamers,” du Toit says. “That’s increasingly challenging for festival programmers, but people like the shared community experience of seeing something together on the big screen. And even more so if the filmmaker is there to discuss their work. That forms a real bond.”

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