When the second annual edition of the Toronto True Crime Film Festival kicks off in Ontario’s capital this summer, the bustling city will once again burst to life with myriad premieres and speaking events.
Running June 14 to 15 at The Revue Cinema in Toronto, the festival serves as the first and only festival completely devoted to the true crime genre of film, and returns this week following a highly successful inaugural year that saw 700-plus attendees join the revelries of the two-day event.
The 2019 lineup will see films covering everything from unjust incarcerations to Internet scams to murder and more, with the live events schedule including a forensics lecture, a live podcast about cults and a sneak peek at the first Ted Bundy project directed by a female filmmaker. Fifteen percent of all pass and ticket sales will be donated to a variety of charities, including the Toronto Rape Crisis Centre/Multicultural Women Against Rape, Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada and the Black Youth Helpline.
Ahead of the 2019 Toronto True Crime Film Festival launch, Realscreen caught up with festival director Lisa Gallagher to discuss the event’s origins and what festival organizers look for in the submissions process.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
How did the festival come into being?
The festival came into being through a perfect storm of things: wishing there was an event like this already in existence, enthusiastic friends who were calling dibs on positions as soon as I mentioned the idea, and a venue that was on board from Day 1.
Can you tell me about the true crime boom of the last few years and what it’s like to enter such a huge, popular space?
Honestly, it’s been great. There’s this really fantastic camaraderie I’ve found between people creating and exhibiting true crime content that I haven’t experienced in most of my previous film festival positions. I’m not sure what makes this different, but I’m here for it.
True crime seems to have hit its stride on TV and streaming sites. How do you see the communal experience of a true crime festival in that ecosystem?
If my membership to true crime Facebook groups has taught me anything, it’s that the first thing everyone wants to do after watching any good true crime show or film is talk about it excessively with other fanatics. Being part of a communal viewing experience at our festival means that the moment the film is done you can turn to anyone around you and start having that conversation immediately. I promise that watching Abducted In Plain Sight in a theatre with 200+ true crime fans was much better than watching it on Netflix six months later.
This is your second year—were there any surprises last year? Were the demographics what you expected? Did certain titles perform differently than expected?
Last year was all good surprises. I tend to think negatively about a lot of things and the amount of people who wanted to join the team, who reached out to help, who attended, and who said kind words — I am constantly blown away by the reception the festival continues to get.
The demographics were pretty much what I expected them to be. As a consumer of true crime content for many years, I’m well aware of what the fan base looks like: largely female-identifying and most often in that mid-twenty to mid-thirty range. Unsurprisingly, this is also the demographic I fall under.
What do you look for in submissions for the festival?
First and foremost, we’re looking at the content. Does it feature or at least have a connection to true crime? This isn’t usually a problem with documentaries, but we always get a handful of submissions that are 100% fictional and just say “murder” or “mafia” in the custom form where we ask for details about the related real-life crime/criminal/etc. We’re also looking for films that are respectful of victims and that do not glorify, glamorize, or romanticize crime or criminals.
After that we’re just looking for good films. I know that’s not a great explanation, but it’s hard to say what combination of things make a film ‘good’.
Does the festival present any opportunities for distributors and broadcasters to buy rights to new titles?
Not currently, but we are open to incorporating something in the future.
With files from Frederick Blichert and Daniele Alcinii