A film lover’s guide to Toronto
Courtesy of Tourism Toronto
How to plan: visit the Tourism Toronto website, seetorontonow.com.
There is much, much more to the city’s cinema scene than the Toronto International Film Festival. In fact, Toronto is a cinephile’s dream come true year-round. From additional film festivals and fascinating shooting locations to deluxe hotels and killer restaurants, Toronto is a technicolor delight for the movie-mad. And April is a perfect month for a drive from Buffalo to Toronto. So, lights, camera, etc.
North America’s largest documentary festival, Hot Docs is a must-attend for lovers of nonfiction cinema. Running this year from April 25 to May 5, the festival features more than 200 films, from high-profile premieres to never-before-seen gems from around the globe. A festival ten-pack is ideal if you’re planning to spend a night or two. (hotdocs.ca)
Now celebrating thirty-two years, Images is an eight-day collection of films, events, and performances that push the boundaries of contemporary moving image culture. Visitors to Buffalo venues like Squeaky Wheel and Hallwalls need to have Images on their radar. It’s scheduled from April 11 to 18. (imagesfestival.com)
Toronto Silent Film Festival
Each year, this celebration of silent cinema features a schedule of stunning range. This year, highlights include a five-film Laurel & Hardy retrospective and the Greta Garbo-starrer The Temptress. The fest runs from April 5 to 8. (torontosilentfilmfestival.com)
Take a tour
Toronto often doubles onscreen as other cities (in films like Suicide Squad), and occasionally plays itself (Enemy, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World). Want to see some of these locations, and hear some unique details? Trust the experts.
Looking for cool small-group tour? Check out Tour Guys (tourguys.ca/toronto) or renowned guide Bruce Bell (brucebelltours.ca). Make sure to ask for a tour of Toronto for movie lovers, and that it includes a stop at the gorgeous Elgin Theatre on Yonge Street. This TIFF venue was memorably used by director Guillermo del Toro in the Oscar-winning sci-fi-romance The Shape of Water.
TIFF Bell Lightbox
The home base for the Toronto International Film Festival, the TIFF Bell Lightbox on King Street West, features new and classic films, lectures, workshops, and exhibitions on the likes of David Cronenberg and Stanley Kubrick. On select Saturdays, the Lightbox offers a special guided tour. Check tiff.net for dates before planning your visit.
Yes, there is a castle in Toronto, and it’s unforgettable. Casa Loma (casaloma.ca) is a nearly 200,000 square foot structure that has served as a shooting location for everything from Chicago to X-Men.
Located at Ontario Place, Cinesphere (ontarioplace.com/en/cinesphere) is notable for being the world’s first permanent IMAX theatre. As part of TIFF, the venue has hosted screenings of films like Dunkirk and First Man, but films are offered year-round. The Ryerson Image Centre on Gould Street (ryersonimagecentre.ca/the-ric) is a fascinating visit for anyone interested in photographic art; free tours are offered Tuesday through Sunday at 2:30 p.m. The Art Gallery of Ontario features numerous screenings in addition to its gallery of masterpieces. In addition, it’s always worth checking the Royal Ontario Museum for film-related events (rom.on.ca). And for something completely different, visit Second City (secondcity.com/toronto) to see the next generation of Canadian comic minds; alumni include Martin Short, Catherine O’Hara, Eugene Levy, and Mike Myers.
Where to eat
At the height of TIFF 2018, I had the pleasure to dine at Montecito (299 Adelaide St. West, montecitorestaurant.ca), and it was a sensory joy. This collaboration between iconic Canadian director Ivan Reitman and Toronto’s Innov8 Hospitality is known for its warmth, its exceptional meals (the kale salad is positively gargantuan), its soundtrack (I recall Beck and Childish Gambino songs pumping), and for its little, Reitman-fueled touches. These include photos from the sets of Ghostbusters and Twins on the wall and a drink list with specialties like “The Zuul.” (If you don’t get that reference, pop in Ghostbusters again tonight.)
Other worthy options include Sotto Sotto, the Italian restaurant at 120 Avenue Road (sottosotto.ca). Celebrities spotted here include Natalie Portman, Johnny Depp, and Ewan McGregor. Then there’s the atmospheric Luma, located inside the TIFF Bell Lightbox on 350 King St. West (lumarestaurant.com), with its seafood-focused menu; and Yorkville’s homey Sassafraz (100 Cumberland St., sassafraz.ca), which features internationally inspired cuisine, live music, and more visiting celebrities.
Where to have a drink
The food at Momofuku, a multi-venue space located at 190 University Avenue (momofuku.com/toronto), is original and inspired, but the best part of my visit was enjoying a drink at Kojin, on the third floor. The Ritz Bar at the Ritz Carlton (181 Wellington St. West, ritzcarlton.com) is another celeb-heavy hotspot; wait until you see the liquid nitrogen creations. And situated east of downtown, the Distillery District is a twofer—a walkable tour spot that has popped up in films like Three Men and a Baby and Cinderella Man, but also a sprawling collection of shops, restaurants, and bars. Plan to stop by the renovated Mill Street Beer Hall and then visit the Cluny Bistro for cocktails. (thedistillerydistrict.com)
Where to stay
Your best sleeping option really depends on time of year and length of stay. The Chelsea Hotel (33 Gerrard St. West, chelseatoronto.com) has a reputation as Toronto’s best family hotel, and it offers lots of reasons why, including a friendly lobby robot. Another large, centrally located choice is downtown’s Hilton Toronto (145 Richmond Street West). In Yorkville, consider the exclusive Hazelton Hotel, the luxurious Four Seasons, and the ultra-chic Kimpton Saint George.