christmas carollers bring festive cheer to toronto


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P1110351_2012_12_08_OChristmasTreeCarrollers_400LRChristmas is around the corner – and so are the carollers! At least in my Toronto neighbourhood, well, neighbourhood adjacent: Bloor-Yorkville. The Bloor-Yorkville BIA is bringing this quartet of festive singers to this upscale stretch of Bloor Street every Saturday from noon to 4 p.m. till Christmas. That means they’re strolling along Bloor right now, bedecked in Dickens-inspired winter wear!

But don’t fret if you miss them on the street. Last weekend I came upon them singing “O Christmas Tree” under this oh so giant Christmas tree in front of the Manulife Centre. So, sooner or later, you’ll find them there, sharing some Christmas cheer with the bustling crowds.


TIFF in the park brings classic screwball comedies to toronto all summer long


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TIFF in the Park gets bigger and bigger every summer, yet it still feels cosy, surrounded by glowing towers, trees and the night sky.  

OK, so summer’s half over and I’m only posting about this year’s TIFF in the Park screwball comedy-themed lineup now. But I’ve missed all the July classics thanks to my lovely camping adventures in northern Ontario (hello, Algonquin Park!), so I only got my first taste of this summer’s superpopular lineup last night.

And was I ever surprised to discover David Pecaut Square – the go-to green space for free outdoor entertainment, including my famous IDD flashmob – totally packed with movie lovers and freebie fanatics alike.

Sure, last year’s crowds were big, too, but the free outdoor film series presented by the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) and the Entertainment District BIA seems bigger than ever. It’s now in its third year, and I remember being one of a handful sitting on the grass three summers ago, watching Casablanca (see photo below), Cairo Time, Dragon Hunters and more. (Of course, I jest. There were more than a handful of us that first summer, but certainly the few of us there were generously spread out, with lots of green space in between.)

“Is that cannon fire or is that my heart pounding?” Casablanca. From TIFF in the Park’s first summer screenings, in 2010. 

Since TIFF started curating its outdoor summer selection last year (I still can’t figure out what the first year’s theme was), TIFF in the Park has been attracting more and more attendees. Last summer, with wonderful, colourful classic movie musicals, like Umbrellas of Cherbourg (see photo below), Mary Poppins, Singing in the Rain, Fiddler on the Roof, Funny Girl and The Sound of Music (my ultimate Christmas movie fave), it became increasingly difficult to find a prime spot – middle centre – if you didn’t get there by 8 p.m.! Apparently, Toronto, movie musicals aren’t just for geeks like me!

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (Les Parapluies de Cherbourg, 1964), a candy-colour French opera with the lovely Catherine Deneuve, kicked off last summer’s series of classic movie musicals at TIFF in the Park.

And as I witnessed last night, Torontonians love their black-and-white screwball comedies as much as they relish their classic movie musicals! Who knew? Like last year, if you don’t get there well in advance of the start time (generally it’s 9 p.m., but by mid-August, it’s 8:30 p.m.), you’ll have to squeeze into the sidelines, with nary a green patch free. Be warned: Film fans start staking out their spot a good hour before the screening, spreading out blankets, freeing themselves of sandals and gathering with friends for a pre-film picnic. Some even bring their dogs!

If you don’t stake out the right spot, you could end up watching TIFF’s classic screwball comedies in the sidelines, with the backs of heads and an anchor line blocking your view. 

As if to acknowledge just how popular TIFF in the Park has become, this year TIFF even has concession stand volunteers walking around the park! There’s one in the photo below, offering popcorn for sale as last night’s film, Hitchcock’s Mr. and Mrs. Smith, begins – for those last-minute munchies, natch. You can also visit the concession stand at the far end of the park till about 30 minutes into the film, or you can dash over to any number of nearby restos, cafes, or the always-a-long-lineup Tim Hortons at the corner of John and King.

A popcorn volunteer (far left) walks around offering his wares just as the original Mr. and Mrs. Smith (Hitchcock’s 1941 classic comedy) starts, at last night’s TIFF in the Park. 

I’ve raved about Toronto’s boom of outdoor cinemas before, from the Toronto Port Authority’s Sail-In Cinema (here and here) and the Open Roof Festival to Harbourfront Free Flicks and TIFF in the Park, among others, and Fresh Air Cinema has been part of many of those screenings. The company’s inflatable screens – a double-sided one is used for the Sail-In Cinema! – are quick to set up and quick to tear down. As soon as the film ended last night, the screen deflated in seconds and the magic of TIFF in the Park seemingly went with it.

BEFORE: Crowds are sprawled across David Pecaut Square, watching Alfred Hitchcock’s Mr. and Mrs. Smith in the heart of Toronto’s entertainment district, enthralled by the magic of TIFF in the Park. 

AFTER: As soon as the film ends, the TIFF in the Park crowd scatters and the outdoor screen, supplied by Fresh Air Cinema, deflates in seconds. 

So, cinephiles, you still have four more weeks of free films to watch at my favourite outdoor cinema! I’m sure the finalé, Frank Capra’s It Happened One Night (1934), with Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert, will draw the largest crowd of the summer. Be sure to get there early!


What: TIFF in the Park, the FREE outdoor summer film series presented by TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival) and the Entertainment District BIA. This summer’s theme is classic screwball comedies.
Where: TIFF in the Park takes place in David Pecaut Square, the lovely parkette nestled between Roy Thomson Hall and Metro Hall, near King and John.
When: Every Wednesday night all summer long. Start times vary (see below).
Schedule: There are still four more films screening this summer!
Aug. 8 at 9 p.m.: The Philadelphia Story (1940), Katharine Hepburn,
Cary Grant, James Stewart

Aug. 15 at 9 p.m.: What’s Up, Doc? (1972), Barbra Streisand, Ryan O’Neal
Aug. 22 at 8:30 p.m.: The Lady Eve (1941), Barbara Stanwyck, Henry Fonda
Aug. 29 at 8:30 p.m.: It Happened One Night (1934), Clark Gable,
Claudette Colbert
Cost: FREE! 

Why: Who doesn’t enjoy spending a lovely balmy night under the stars, watching classic screwball comedies? 

toronto port authority’s sail-in cinema returns, august 16-18, 2012


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The highlight of last year’s inaugrual Sail-In Cinema, sponsored by the Toronto Port Authority, was a splashing, er, smashing success! 

It’s baaaack! The Toronto Port Authority’s Sail-In Cinema, Toronto’s most creative outdoor screening event, gracing the stretch of land – and water – beside Sugar Beach at Corus Quay, is back for its second year of nautical-themed movies screened under the stars and on the lake.

As I wrote last year, the Sail-In Cinema is one of my favourite outdoor screenings in the city. And that says a lot, since Toronto has enough FREE outdoor screenings for every night of the week and then some: take your pick, say, on Wednesdays between Harbourfront and TIFF in the Park, or on Sundays between the west-end’s Christie Pits Film Festival and the east-end’s Movies in the Park at Riverdale Park, or do Tuesday’s Cult Classics at Yonge-Dundas Square, Friday’s Movies Under the Stars at Downsview Park, or Saturday’s Backyard Cinema at Green Space on Church.

But it’s the unique aspect of this waterfront-friendly film series that makes it a big fish in a big pond, um, lake.

That’s because the inflatable double-sided screen (from Fresh Air Cinemafloats on Lake Ontario, so land lovers can watch from shore while those blessed with boats can sail up to the screen, tune into the audio via radio, and watch from the luxury of their deck! You read right! The Sail-In Cinema is special indeed!

In 2011, Jaws was the big draw to Toronto’s Sail-In Cinema. Will it top 2012’s nautical-themed films too? Cast your vote till July 24! That’s tonight!

Last year, the Friday night screening of Jaws was the huge draw (see photo above), with 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and Finding Nemo attracting a smaller (and younger) set.

This year, cinephiles have until tonight to cast their vote for the three flicks they want to catch this year. Jaws is leading the pack so far, but Creature from the Black Lagoon and Hook are close behind.

And really, who wouldn’t want to see Creature from the Black Lagoon while looking out onto the water, in the dark, under a blanket of stars? Cast your vote today! 

And then visit the site from July 25th to request your free tickets!

[UPDATE: The 2012 Sail-In Cinema picks are below. Get your FREE tickets now!]
Thursday, Aug. 16: The Poseidon Adventure (1972)
Friday, Aug. 17: Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954)
Saturday, Aug. 18: Hook (1991)

comfy, custom-fit wolverine ics hiking shoes


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We spent the day hiking around the Brick Works, getting the scoop on Wolverine’s new ICS technology from Yahn Lebo, product line/category sales manager for the footwear company’s Rugged Outdoor collection.

Let it be known that as much as I love cycling, hiking and paddling, I hate shopping. I especially hate shopping for – gasp! – shoes.

“How could that be?” you ask? “How could anyone hate shoe shopping?!” Alas, I detest the task. Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that I don’t like shoes; what I can’t stand is the struggling to find a pair that sorta, kinda fit. I’ve resigned myself to the never-ending challenge of finding a comfy pair of sporty shoes that fit my small but wide feet while offering enough support and cushioning. I dread shoe shopping so much, I actually avoid buying athletic footwear till I desperately need new gear on vacation!

So when Elevator Inc. recently invited me to their Wolverine “Take a Hike” event at Evergreen Canada’s Brick Works – one of my favourite outdoor spaces in Toronto – I was eager to get my feet into some Wolverine ICS Salina hiking shoes  ($144.99). From Wolverine’s Fall 2012 Rugged Outdoor line, they’ve a special snazzy feature that’s perfect for finicky feet like mine.

When I hike, I usually wear my Keen boots, but lately they’ve been doing more harm than good: while training for the Camino last year, I had to buy gel heel insoles to alleviate pain in my Achilles tendons when I hiked. Boy, what a difference did those gel insoles make!

So let’s just say that I was “keen” on trying out the Salina’s gel cushion, which provides adjustable comfort.

Yes, you read right: the shoes offer built-in adjustable comfort! The Salina features Wolverine’s amazing new Individual Comfort System (ICS) technology, which lets you personalize your footwear’s level of support by rotating the gel heel disc hidden under the removable insole of each shoe or boot. The thickness of the gel disc varies at different points, so as you rotate the disc, you’ll get more or less cushioning and support.

The idea of having what’s essentially multiple gel insoles in one shoe is pretty cool! It means you can customize your hiking shoes on the go, without ever enduring the hassle of purchasing and trying out specific insoles. With ICS, Wolverine builds in those options for you!


The Individual Comfort System has four settings that you can adjust to suit your comfort level: Cushion (C), Firm (F), Inward (I) and Outward (O).

According to Wolverine, each setting helps reduce force and torque on your body with each step you take. It’s easy to adjust the disc: simply lift up the insole (as shown above), pull out the gel disc and rotate it so your comfort setting points to the arrow in the footbed, then insert the disc and replace the insole.

Here’s what ICS looks like in action on a demo piece. (The red piece is the gel disc for the right foot, as viewed from behind; the black part is the footbed.)

cushion As I learned when I used my gel heel insoles on the Camino, a cushioned heel aids shock absorption and relieves pressure on your joints. You can see that this setting provides a bouncy, airy support at the back of the heel. Yahn Lebo, product line/category sales manager for Wolverine’s Rugged Outdoor collection, says this is the ideal setting to start on; as such, when you try on a new pair of Wolverines with ICS, Cushion is the default setting.

firm When we started our hike through the quarry gardens, all of our discs were set on Cushion. Partway through the hike, we stopped and switched the setting to Firm, and within a few minutes, I noticed a difference. My feet felt more comfortable and I actually had a bit of a spring in my step. The Firm setting has thicker support at the back of the heel, and according to Wolverine, it gives you more energy return, so it’s best for those hikes when you want to go harder and farther.

inward This setting is for people with low arches, or those who tend to wear out their soles on the inner edges. You can see that it stabilizes your foot by providing more firm support along the inside edge of your foot and more cushioning along the outside.

outward People with high arches should try the Outward setting. The reverse of Inward, it offers firmer support for the outer edge of your foot while providing more cushioning for the inner edge. As you can see here, it also slightly repositions your foot to offer more stability.


When I showed up to the event, Yarn (shown at left) was eager to explain how ICS works, and the brand experts on site where equally eager to get us into a pair of our very own Wolverine ICS shoes.

I was given a choice: the lace-up Salina or the Outlander, a waterproof leather moc. While I love the ease of a slip-on, I picked the Salina because laces allow for a more custom fit – and what is ICS about if not a custom fit?

I’m really glad we had the chance to talk to Yahn and that he suggested we switch settings while on our hike. As I said above, I felt more comfortable walking the gentle trails of the Brick Works with the disc dialed to Firm, but I’ve noticed since then that my aching heels really appreciate the Cushion setting when I’m standing more than walking.

As I head out on my first major camping and hiking adventure this summer, I’m sooo gonna put my Wolverine ICS hikers to task, adjusting the gel cushion as the terrain and my pace change! I’m also crossing my fingers that Wolverine expands the Spring 2013 line to include ICS boots for women…a gal’s gotta have a good, supportive mid-height four-season hiker to muck about in the mud and snow, natch!


What: Wolverine ICS Salina trail hikers from the Rugged Outdoor collection.
Colours: Cement/Royal (shown), Sand/Orange, Khaki/Fuchsia
Cost: $144.99 Cdn
Where to buy: The Salina and other shoes from the Rugged Outdoor line, featuring ICS technology, are available in Canada through the Wolverine website. The Salina is also available at the following retailers: Traxx Footwear; Work N Play; Centre de Chaussures, Victoriaville, Quebec, 819-758-4389; Bi-OPFrenchie’s Service Centre. Go! Get your Wolverine on!

alexi murdoch turns up the heat in toronto


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Sure, it’s been hot in Toronto. But Alexi Murdoch was hotter. Waaay hotter. Last Saturday at The Great Hall. And it’s not because there was no air con.

OK, part if it was the stifling heat and lack of air circulation in the packed venue. I won’t lie. I showed up at 10:50 p.m., two songs into the British singer-songwriter’s set, and a few songs later people were already starting to sneak out to get some air.

Now, I can understand people leaving because of the heat. I’d been hemming and hawing about cooling down with a swim, catching a breezy outdoor concert at Harbourfront or the Toronto Jazz Festival, or paying the $18 to cram into sweltering Great Hall to see Alexi live.

But am I ever glad I chose to pony up the bucks and brave the overheated hall, because Alexi was utterly captivating – with just him and his guitar. Well, his guitar, his violin (which he played like a guitar), and this odd, accordion-like instrument (shown below).

Alexi’s songs are hauntingly beautiful, and not nearly as depressing as William Fitzsimmons’ (which I like, too, but, man, is his stuff ever dreary). He was a little low on the banter, which I always worry about, since much of what I enjoy about concerts is the performer’s engagement with the audience. Alexi, however, mostly focused on the music, save for a request to turn the stage lights off and a ceiling fan on, and a comment about taking a risk before tackling the instrument shown in the photo above.

Oh! There was also mention of his enjoying silence – and that we all should experience silence, even for just a few minutes a year. That might explain why he was so quiet between songs.

As someone remarked after the show, Alexi would suit a much smaller venue better. I’d secretly been hoping only a hundred of us would turn out, as I’d wanted a repeat of my Yael Naïm experience, with the small lot of us sitting on the floor, completely enthralled by the singer (see below).

Instead, it was standing room only, which really shouldn’t have surprised me. Even if you’re not familiar with his latest release, Towards the Sun (2011), you’ve no doubt heard Alexi whether you know it or not: tracks from his debut LP, Time Without Consequences (2006), peppered the Away We Go soundtrack and appeared in The O.C., Grey’s Anatomy, Brothers & Sisters, Dawson’s Creek, House, Ugly Betty…you name it.

And even though I ran out of water and was near fainting, I count myself lucky to have caught Alexi live last weekend. For some reason, his summer tour is sparse, with just four dates, three of which occured last week.

But thanks to the mysterious Jakery, who posted this vid of Alexi at The Great Hall, you can catch him “live in Toronto” too!

it wouldn’t be canada if we didn’t have to stop for geese crossing the road


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It never fails to make me laugh: when a flock of geese crossing the street stops traffic!

One by one, these Canada geese cautiously stepped in front of my mom’s car tonight, as we were driving back to Toronto after a daytrip up at Lake Simcoe. We were slowly cruising when my brother noticed the flock grazing on the swath of grass on the right side of the road.

And so we stopped.

And waited.

And then the first one inched forward, very tentatively followed by another and another. All the while, we were laughing at how the geese know how to cross so that they don’t get run over – and how drivers so willingly comply by patiently stopping as they do so.

We noticed that as cars approached, some of the geese in this flock flapped their wings and extended their necks, seeming larger and more imposing while drawing attention to themselves crossing as a group. They were fully aware of traffic and proceeded cautiously. It was a fascinating sight indeed.

And what, exactly, did these grazing birds do when they got to the other side of the road? Why, eat dinner, of course!

and this is why i dislike the MMVAs


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Seriously. It’s not so much that I don’t like the MMVAs (MuchMusic Video Awards), which transformed downtown Toronto last weekend. It’s more that I don’t like the chaos and mess that goes with it (read: detours to my bike route). Witness the remnants of this giant paper Bieber head, held up high by hoards of squealing teenage girls all night long, discarded on the side of the road near show’s end.

No, I really do love the MMVAs, a huge, loud, fun, free street party open to everyone. And I do mean everyone – wristbands get you prime positions, but anyone can catch the action live from the street or the red carpet. The MMVAs aren’t a traditional awards show in that it doesn’t take place in a theatre: multiple massive stages are strategically placed along several city streets (and a parking lot) surrounding the music video channel’s headquarters at the corner of Queen and John.

This is how John Street (a.k.a. the red carpet) looked post-MMVAs. The sidewalks were still so packed, it was impossible to push through the crowds.

Those few blocks are blocked off from traffic (some of them are closed almost a week before the event!) and are packed with massive crowds, the likes of which started lining up the morning of – armed with their coveted wristbands – several hours before the celebrated show started. The very same fans camped out for days the week before, keen to score their MMVA wristbands when MuchMusic handed them out on June 8. Now, that’s dedication!

Truly, the MMVAs is a show for the fans. As the performers and presenters walk the red carpet, they sign autographs, pose for pics and get interviewed by MuchMusic VJs. But before the celebs get to that point, they’ve already got fans screaming (and I do mean SCREAMING) over their outrageous entrances: this year, breakout former Canadian Idol contestant Carly Rae Jepsen, clad in an Angelina-worthy double thigh-high-slit leather dress, pulled up in a convertible being washed by shirtless hotties.

Such street-party spectacle brings massive energy to Queen West, and the hoards will hang out for hours, even if they can’t see a stage. For many, it’s enough to hear the hubbub and be a part of the electric enviro.

And when you can feel like you’re thisclose to chart toppers Katy Perry (this year’s cohost), Justin Bieber, LMFAO and Kelly Clarkson, why wouldn’t you brave being crushed in a crowd of screaming fans?

A couple of nights before the big show, John Street was already decked out with scaffolding and police were standing guard to direct traffic.

Half of Richmond was sectioned off by barricades to funnel the wristband crowd, and it was still blocked off when I biked by near show’s end. 

toronto’s open roof film festival heralds the start of summer


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Open Roof film fest volunteer training 2012

Volunteers gather in the Amsterdam parking lot for a brief training session as the Open Roof Festival prepares to kick-start Summer 2012.

Ahhh, summer in Toronto has arrived! And the heatwave of the past few days has finally subsided. Too bad the thunderstorms that brought tonight’s cooler climes (yes, these days 26°C is cool!) also brought the Open Roof Festival indoors – that is, not so open and def not outdoors.

And we all know how much I love outdoor cinemas: in green spaces (TIFF in the Park), on water (the way cool Sail-In Cinema)…even in a parking lot (read on)!

But thanks to tonight’s looming deluge, Open Roof Festival organizers announced at 6 p.m. this evening that the opening-night outdoor screening ($15 per ticket; see schedule below) would be moved indoors. Conveniently, the building beside the lot houses a 250-person industrial event space, complete with a permanent screen, a wee stage and washrooms…. In. A. Brewery.

Amsterdam's event space

Open Roof screens films rain or shine. If there’s a high chance of showers, the fest moves into the Amsterdam Brewing Company’s event space, which has a permanent screen, washrooms and a 250-person capacity.

The Amsterdam Brewing Company, that is. Kicking off its third season tonight, the awesome outdoor summer-long music and film fest that is Open Roof is basically a weekly Thursday night party in the Amsterdam Brewing Company’s parking lot, which can hold more than 600 people (capacity is one of many reasons to wish for good weather).

But this empty parking lot, a sunken space ringed with grass and covered with gravel, is transformed as night falls and festival goers pour in, under the stars, with the CN Tower and illuminated downtown skyscrapers creating a beautiful backdrop.

Pretty cool, eh?

(The area does, in fact, get quite cool at night, since it’s a couple of blocks from the lake, so sweaters, jackets and the like are a must.)

Cooler still are the Canadian indie bands opening each of the summer-long festival’s 10 films (check out the list of both below). That’s right! Ticket holders enter at 7:30 p.m., just in time to catch the band at 8 p.m. as they perform on the ground right in front of the screen. How music-fest authentic, with bands within arm’s reach!

And what’s a music (and film) fest without cold beer and flavourful food? (I’m thinking about my beloved Hillside and its support of local food vendors varying from vegetarian to ethnic to meat lover to baked goods to organic ice cream!)

Toronto’s first craft brewery, Amsterdam Brewing Company, is the home of the Open Roof Festival.

Given that Open Roof takes place on Amsterdam Brewing Company property, beer from Toronto’s first craft brewery abounds. Be aware that you must purchase drink tickets and can only consume alcohol bought on the microbrewery’s lot. As the brewery store will be open till 11 p.m., beer can be bought at the shop, but it cannot be brought onto the festival grounds, since no outside beverages or food are allowed. Absolutely no glass containers, either.

Pair your drinks (nonalcoholic beverages will be available, too) with the featured local food vendor suited to that movie’s theme. Hungry patrons at this week’s film, Marley, about Jamaican musician Bob Marley, were treated to Jamaican food. Yum!

And what really gets me excited about the fest is that Cycle Toronto (formerly known as the Toronto Cyclists Union) is offering free bike valet parking on site! Majorly handy, since there’s little bike parking at the brewery. Plus, it encourages cycling to the event. Heart.

Now, if you’re spending summer in the city, doesn’t the Open Roof Festival sound like a fun Thursday night out in Toronto? Live music, indie films, beer, food and bikes! I’m so there. Really. I’m a volunteer!

Bad: the Open Roof Festival is beside the Gardiner. Good: the accessible ramp up to the Amsterdam’s washrooms is on the left side of the brewery.


What: Open Roof Festival, a music and fest celebrating bands and films.
When: Thursdays all summer long (June 21 to Aug. 23, 2012). Doors open at 7:30 p.m.; the band plays at 8 p.m. and the film screens at 9 p.m.
Cost: $15 per film. See TIP below about purchasing tickets. 
Where: The Amsterdam Brewing Company parking lot. It’s a tad out of the way at 21 Bathurst Street, but still accessible by streetcar, bike and foot. The parking lot, BTW, won’t be used as a parking lot, so bike, walk or TTC it. 
Bonus: There’s a free valet bike parking! Thanks, Cycle Toronto!
TIP: Don’t fret if tickets sell out in advance. Organizers limit preshow sales in case the film screens indoors, but they’ll still release tickets the day of.

Films + bands: 
June 21  >  Marley  >  performance by Friendlyness & the Human Rights
June 28  >  Charles Bradley Soul of America  >  performance by Army Girls
July 5  >   Fat Kid Rules The World  >  performance by The Magic
July 12  >  China Heavyweight  >  performance by The Little Black Dress
July 19  >  Herman’s House  >  performance by Stacey Bulmer
July 26  >  Undefeated  >  performance by Run with the Kittens
August 2  >  Hysteria  >  performance by Eucalyptus
August 9  >  Indie Game  >  performance by Parlovr
August 16  >  Moonrise Kingdom  >  performance by Dusted
August 23  >  Beasts of the Southern Wild  >  performance by Bruce Peninsula


Think the outdoor cinema is the coolest? Read all about these other outdoor film screenings in Toronto:
TIFF’s Outdoor Cinema Takes Over David Pecaut Square 
The Toronto Port Authority’s Cool Sail-in Cinema Makes Waves