The Toronto International Film Festival released their galas and special presentations lineup on Tuesday morning, the first in a series of announcements prior to the Sept. 5 start of the festival.
With the Venice Film Festival also announcing its program this week, this fall’s film festivals are beginning to come into focus. Many of the titles premiering as part of the circuit that includes Telluride, Venice, Toronto, New York and L.A.’s AFI Fest hope to gain awards season traction.
Among the TIFF galas are some much anticipated titles and many presumed awards season contenders including “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” directed by Marielle Heller and starring Tom Hanks, “Ford v Ferrari,” directed by James Mangold and starring Christian Bale and Matt Damon, “Harriet,” directed by Kasi Lemmons and starring Cynthia Erivo, “Just Mercy,” directed by Destin Daniel Cretton and starring Michael B. Jordan, Jamie Foxx and Brie Larson and “The Goldfinch,” directed by John Crowley and starring Ansel Elgort and Nicole Kidman.
In a record number for the festival, 50% of the gala films announced are directed or co-directed by women. This year’s 18 galas and 38 special presentations includes 29 world premieres, six international premieres (films that debuted in the U.S.), 13 North American premieres, and eight Canadian premieres.
Among the more surprising titles in the galas lineup is “Joker,” directed by Todd Phillips and starring Joaquin Phoenix as the notorious villain from the DC Comics gallery of characters. Being part of TIFF brings an air of respectability to the filmmaker behind “The Hangover” trilogy and also adds gravitas to a movie with origins in the super hero universe.
Speaking from Toronto on Monday, both executive director Joana Vicente and artistic director Cameron Bailey, co-heads of TIFF, had nothing but praise for the movie.
“It’s a fabulous film,” said Vicente. “We all love it.”
“We went in not knowing exactly what to expect, but it is a really original vision of this character,” said Bailey. “It’s not based on existing DC canonical work and so that allows Todd Phillips to go in a new direction. And Joaquin Phoenix is just phenomenal in it.
“But the other thing I would say is that as a festival, we have often launched films that are going to go on to big commercial lives,” Bailey said. “And I think this year you would also maybe include ‘Ford v Ferrari’ in that and ‘Hustlers’ and some other films that are going to be presented to the widest possible audience. But they also are films of high artistic merit. And that’s why they’re here.”
“Hustlers,” directed by Lorene Scafaria and starring Jennifer Lopez, Constance Wu and rappers Cardi B and Lizzo, “Western Stars,” a Bruce Springsteen concert film drawn from his recent album of the same name and directed by frequent collaborator Thom Zimny, “American Woman,” directed by Semi Chellas and starring Hong Chau, and “Clemency,” directed by Chinonye Chukwu and starring Alfre Woodard, are also featured in the galas lineup.
Last year’s festival included the world premiere of the divisive “Green Book,” directed by Peter Farrelly and starring Mahershala Ali and Viggo Mortensen, which won TIFF’s People’s Choice audience award before garnering three Oscars, including best picture.
As to whether having a success like “Green Book,” created additional pressure in putting together this year’s festival, Bailey responded, “I wouldn’t say so. Look, we were thrilled to be the festival that launched ‘Green Book’ last year, and to see all of the success it went on to after winning our People’s Choice award.
“But really what we’re looking for every year, is just films that move us, films that we think are going to move our audiences, films that reflect the best that we can find in cinema,” Bailey said. “And then some of them go on to win big prizes, but we can’t know that going in. So we’re just really looking for the best films we can find from all over the world. And we’ve got a lot of them here this year.”
Also announced on Tuesday was the festival’s special presentations lineup. Among those titles are “Dolemite Is My Name,” directed by Craig Brewer and starring Eddie Murphy, “Jojo Rabbit,” directed by Taika Waititi and starring Scarlett Johansson, “Judy,” directed by Rupert Goold and starring Renée Zellweger as Judy Garland, and “Knives Out,” directed by Rian Johnson with an ensemble including Chris Evans and Daniel Craig.
“Marriage Story,” directed by Noah Baumbach and starring Adam Driver and Johansson, will also play in the special presentations, along with “Motherless Brooklyn,” directed by and starring Edward Norton, “The Laundromat,” directed by Steven Soderbergh and starring Meryl Streep and Gary Oldman, “The Personal History of David Copperfield,” directed by Armando Iannucci and starring Dev Patel and “Uncut Gems,” directed by Benny Safdie and Josh Safdie and starring Adam Sandler.
Other special presentations titles include “Coming Home Again,” directed by Wayne Wang and starring Justin Chon, “Ema,” directed by Pablo Larraín and starring Gael García Bernal, “Endings, Beginnings,” directed by Drake Doremus and starring Shailene Woodley and Sebastian Stan, “Pelican Blood,” directed by Katrin Gebbe and starring Nina Hoss, and “While At War,” director Alejandro Amenábar’s return to Spanish language filmmaking.
Among titles announced Tuesday that premiered elsewhere earlier in the year are Bong Joon-ho’s “Parasite,” which won the top prize at the Cannes Film Festival, Céline Sciamma’s “Portrait of a Lady on Fire,” Ira Sachs’ “Frankie,” Alma Har’el’s “Honey Boy,” Robert Eggers’s “The Lighthouse,” Scott Z. Burns’ “The Report” and Makoto Shinkai’s animated “Weathering With You.”
Where Cannes made headlines by banishing Netflix films from its prestigious main competition, Toronto welcomes projects from the increasingly powerful and prolific streaming services.
The initial TIFF announcement featured four titles from Netflix, with “The Laundromat,” “Dolemite Is My Name,” “Marriage Story” and Fernando Meirelles’ “The Two Popes.” Amazon Studios has three films in the first announcement, with “The Report,” “Honey Boy” and “Radioactive,” the latter directed by Marjane Satrapi and starring Rosamund Pike as Marie Curie.
“We’re lucky in that we get to play all of our movies on giant screens with great sound for audiences,” said Bailey. “So the theatrical experience is still paramount for us and where the films come from is not as important as just the quality of the films and how we get to show them to our audiences. That’s what our festival is for. Those films are now coming from all different kinds of sources, including some of the new players in the industry. But we still make sure that we make the theatrical experience the first concern for us.”
“In some cases these might be the only theatrical experiences that these films will have,” said Vicente. “And that goes for the big films from Netflix and for smaller films that go to smaller platforms. We are just trying to pick the best films and giving them an incredible theatrical experience. And that’s all we can do.”
It was previously announced that Daniel Roher’s music documentary “Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and The Band” will open the festival. TIFF closes with “Radioactive.”
This year marks Vicente’s first with the festival. She was previously executive director of the New York-based Independent Filmmaker Project and a longtime figure in the independent filmmaking scene.
As the landscape of the movie industry changes rapidly, Vicente surmised there will likely always be a place for film festivals and the way they directly connect movies and audiences.
“I think festivals will be more important than ever,” Vicente said. “They are the place where films can actually have these collective experiences where people see the film on the big screen and can use it as a launch pad.
“I’m incredibly excited,” said Vicente of this year’s festival. “I love that all of the programmers really are thinking about the audience first. And that’s part of what makes Toronto really unique and special, we have amazing audiences and we’re programming the best films and really thinking about how we can program for everybody because we have an incredible multicultural population in Toronto.”
The Toronto International Film Festival runs from Thursday, Sept. 5 to Sunday, Sept. 15.