Toronto is totally obsessed with true crime
We've all seen them: the TV shows on American networks about grisly murders and FBI cases gone cold. These programs – usually aired after hours – have compelled the public imagination for decades, whether we like to admit it or not.
While the true crime genre has always been a source of entertainment for the macabre mind, for years it's felt like an enjoyment best kept on the low, lest consumers be labelled as 'dark' or 'morbid' for liking it.
But the genre has just recently reentered some type of renaissance, slowly emerging from the shadowy depths of late night TV in the form of highly publicized Netflix shows like Making a Murderer and the star-studded production, O.J. Simpson: Made In America.
And with the arrival of the wildly popular podcast My Favourite Murder – a show where two female comedians discuss their favourite murder cases – and the homegrown Minds of Madness, the genre has reached a new level of accessibility, and with it, a historic peak in pop culture.
It's no coincidence then that Toronto is getting a brand new film festival dedicated entirely to true crime this summer. Screening five movies, the festival will feature documentaries and fiction films based on real crime events – the first festival of its kind in the city.
"There's a movement to make true crime something more than just tabloids," says Lisa Gallagher, director of the Toronto True Crime Film Festival.
As a film industry professional and longtime true crime fan, Lisa says she "saw a hole" in the world of film festivals that needed to be filled.
Last September, she witnessed thousands of My Favourite Murder fans (a.k.a "murderinos") pack in to the Sony Centre for a live recording of the Los Angeles-based podcast. It was an undeniable sign that Toronto's true crime fan base was alive and hungry for more content.
"I just knew the audience was there," she says.
So far, her festival has garnered interest from over 3,000 people on Facebook, and its IndieGogo campaign is just a few days away from achieving its goal of $3,500.
The method of consuming true crime has evolved drastically over the years and though books are still immensely popular, the more passive, lonely approach of Capote's In Cold Blood days have recently been replaced by more interactive media like podcasts and TV shows.
"The people who are making true crime content now are making it for a different audience," says Lisa.
"Tabloid-y true crime shows still exist, but now there's content being created for people who like true crime but also like victims' advocacy and social justice."
While never victimless, true crime isn't always about murder. This category of storytelling also includes heists, kidnappings, white-collar crime – basically anything that involves lawbreaking in spectacular fashion.
And now with more time and room for discussion, this new era of true crime affords fans the space to look at criminal acts in broader social contexts, from the failures of law enforcement to institutional prejudice, instead of just dissecting them as one-off events.
"It’s equal parts terrifying and it’s heartbreaking, but it’s also something that especially as women we appreciate because it’s bringing to light how disproportionate violence is towards women or minorities," says Lisa.
Right now, the Facebook group for Toronto's My Favourite Murder fans numbers just below 1,000, the majority of whom are women.
Created by group administrator Paddy Jane last year, MFM's Toronto chapter also hosts in-person meet ups, discussing not only the podcast's latest episodes but also events happening in real time.
For example, as the case of Bruce McArthur began to unfold, MFM Toronto's page became a platform for both mourning and criticism, with in-depth discussions flooding the group's timeline even before police had dubbed the alleged murderer of eight men a serial killer.
According to Paddy, many members of MFM Toronto took the opportunity to express feeling "frustrated and hurt" by law enforcement's policies when it came to investigating missing and murdered people in the 2SLGBTQA+ community.
"The group gives a safe space for people to vent too," says Paddy.
At surface level, the MFM Toronto page is just one of many fan clubs residing on Facebook. But at its core, the group is a rare outlet for people – especially those from vulnerable communities – to share their concerns in solidarity with others.
"Learning about criminals and how they lure their victims literally feels like arming yourself with knowledge to stay safe," she says.
Congregating to dissect the genre's tragedies – and in some cases, triumphs – is more than just an exchange of horror stories. It's cathartic, an experience that requires a certain sense of camaraderie between the people who consume it.
Lisa says, "It's equal parts reminder to stay safe but also to live life better, because you don’t know what’s going to happen."
"It never ceases to amaze me how complex it is to like true crime."
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