While splashy, star-driven awards bait steals most of the headlines and attention, there are two sections in the upcoming Toronto International Film Festival that will play directly into the current movie landscape’s hottest trends: documentary and Midnight Madness.
Documentaries are perhaps not typically one of the festival’s sexier sections, but in a summer when they have made a strong showing at the U.S. box office, many will be looking to TIFF’s documentary program for potential breakouts. The world premiere of Michael Moore’s “Fahrenheit 11/9,” about the United States in the era of President Trump, will almost assuredly prove to be one of the most talked-about films at this year’s festival, which runs Sept. 6-16.
“I think Michael Moore likes to take a fresh angle and catch people by surprise,” said Thom Powers, TIFF docs programmer. He’s betting that the sequel, of sorts, to Moore’s 2004 George W. Bush examination “Fahrenheit 9/11” — which remains the highest-grossing documentary of all time, by far, at the box office — will also surprise.
“This film is both very timely in the lead-up to America’s congressional elections in November, but it also has a timeless quality,” Powers said. “People should not come expecting that [Moore] is just going to be shooting Donald Trump in a barrel with jokes. He’s taking a much bigger perspective on American politics.”
Meanwhile, at a time when horror has hardly been hotter at the box office, the festival’s cult favorite Midnight Madness lineup will host the world premieres of Shane Black’s “The Predator” and David Gordon Green’s “Halloween,” with both films set for release by major studios and attempting to breathe new life into longstanding franchises.
“I know sometimes at a festival you don’t want to see the studio fare, but I think both these films really do challenge expectations and subvert them in a really fun way,” said Midnight Madness programmer Peter Kuplowsky.
Powers confirmed that the recent box-office success of documentaries such as “RBG” and the Fred Rogers-focused “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” have led to an uptick in interest in nonfiction from the broader film industry. He said there are more docs up for acquisition, represented by more major sales agencies, than he can remember in any previous year.
“And in my preliminary conversations with some of the big buyers,” Powers added, “I know that people are coming for the next big thing.”
In addition to Moore’s “Fahrenheit 11/9,” other politically charged docs to play at the festival include Errol Morris’ “American Dharma,” about political strategist Steve Bannon; Alexis Bloom’s “Divide and Conquer: The Story of Roger Ailes”; Werner Herzog and André Singer’s “Meeting Gorbachev”; and Vitaly Mansky’s “Putin’s Witness.”
The documentary selections will touch on a wide range of other topics as well. Victoria Stone and Mark Deeble’s “The Elephant Queen” follows the journey of an elephant herd, and Billy Corben’s “Screwball” explores doping in major league baseball. E. Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin’s “Free Solo” is about audacious professional climber Alex Honnold.
Celebrity-driven docs include Rashida Jones and Allan Hicks’ “Quincy,” which profiles the musician Quincy Jones (who also happens to be Rashida Jones’ father); “Maria by Callas,” directed by Tom Volf, which looks at the famed singer; and Margarethe von Trotta’s “Searching for Ingmar Bergman,” about the acclaimed Swedish director.
Two films will look at gender dynamics in the film industry: “This Changes Everything,” directed by Tom Donahue and executive produced by Geena Davis, focuses on Hollywood, while “Women Make Film: A New Road Movie Through Cinema,” directed by Mark Cousins and executive produced and narrated by Tilda Swinton, looks at the history of cinema through the lens of female directors.
Kuplowsky is in only his second year as TIFF’s Midnight Madness programmer. In a call on Wednesday, he explained how his vision for the section is far beyond generic horror gore.
“When I took over the section, it was very important to me [that] it challenge conventional expectations of what a midnight movie is. And for me it’s never meant exclusively horror, it’s meant subversion and transgression,” he said.
Two films in the section premiered earlier this year at the Cannes Film Festival — Gabriel Abrantes and Daniel Schmidt’s “Diamantino” and Gaspar Noé’s “Climax.” Sundance premiere “Assassination Nation,” directed by Sam Levinson, also will be spotlighted.
Other world premiere titles include Kiah Roache-Turner’s “Nekrotronic,” starring Monica Belluci”; “In Fabric,” the return of “The Duke of Burgundy” director Peter Strickland; and the Indian action comedy “The Man Who Feels No Pain,” directed by Vasan Bala.
For potential commercial successes to emerge from the section, Kuplowsky pointed to female-driven supernatural thriller “The Wind,” set in the 1800s and directed by Emma Tammi, and Henry Dunham’s “The Standoff at Sparrow Creek,” which deals with gun violence. Both are world premiere titles.
“I do think, specifically in the Midnight Madness section, genre audiences are often the most open to being surprised,” Kuplowksy said. “I think it’s an audience that's constantly looking for something they haven’t seen before, an experience they haven’t gone on.”