Get Reel, an annual film festival centered around mental health, is returning for its third year in Toronto.

Founded in 2020, Get Reel seeks to provide a forum for conversation about mental health in all its forms. The festival follows a hybrid model, with both digital and in-person events, and runs June 5-9.

Produced by Stella’s Place, which provides free mental health services to young adults aged 16 to 29 in Toronto, the festival is an opportunity for young filmmakers with an interest in mental health to show their projects to the public. Organizers say that the festival has grown exponentially since 2020, with an expected in-person attendance this year of around 800 people.

Alex Sawatzky, founder of Get Reel, says the festival’s hybrid element remains integral to its central premise.

“There are still folks who want in-person connection,” Sawatzky said in an interview. “We want to have the most accessible options available, and also offer audiences support after watching the film.” One of the key components of Get Reel is the presence of trained counsellors and active listeners for audience members to talk to if they find themselves activated by the contents of a particular film.

“When we programmed the festival, we were looking for films that had very honest portrayals of mental health,” said Sawatzky. “There are definitely a lot of films that can be a little bit stigmatizing to mental health, and so we’re really trying to break stigmas with our festival. So many mental health challenges are misrepresented elsewhere.”

One of the films being screened at Gel Real deals with insomnia – and the public’s common misperceptions of what the condition entails. Spencer Glassman, the filmmaker, is the recipient of one of the Get Reel scholarships, and is looking forward to screening their film for the public.

“I wanted to make something that was funny, and shed light on mental health issues, and was relatable, and could kind of provide some levity for folks while also being a good film,” Glassman told CP24. “It’s a film about someone who can’t sleep, and we follow them on this 12-hour journey and see all the ups and downs that come with insomnia. Those 12 hours when you’re supposed to be resting, that can be the worst time for anxiety.

“This is for people who might have chronic insomnia, or if there’s just one night where you can’t sleep. You might be able to relate to this story.”

Another filmmaker, Anastasia Itkina, is using the Get Reel platform to showcase a film about a Ukrainian refugee struggling with PTSD. Itkina herself hails from Kyiv, and is using her lifetime love of film to bring the story to life.

“I think it kind of goes back to being a lonely child,” she told CP24. “Every time I would watch something, I’d say to myself, ‘oh, I want to be like this character.’ But then around 14, I realized I wanted to be me, and that was the common denominator of why I was so attracted to films.

“They made me feel like there’s hope, and I wasn’t so lonely. I really wanted to be a part of that.”

A total of 16 films will be screened over the course of the festival.

The opening gala is set for the TIFF Bell Lightbox on Monday.