The increasingly tangled web of the fall festival season has begun to come into focus, with the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival releasing its initial program announcement of galas and special presentations.
Some of the season’s most anticipated titles are among the galas, including the high-profile remake of “A Star Is Born,” starring Lady Gaga alongside the film’s director, Bradley Cooper, and Damien Chazelle’s follow-up to “La La Land,” the astronaut drama “First Man” starring Ryan Gosling as Neil Armstrong.
Though both of those films are confirmed to bow at the Venice Film Festival shortly before Toronto, the Canadian festival will include several high-profile world premieres, including Barry Jenkins’ “Moonlight” follow-up “If Beale Street Could Talk,” adapted from the work of James Baldwin.
In the galas section, world premieres include Felix Van Groeningen’s addiction drama “Beautiful Boy,” starring Steve Carell and Timothée Chalamet; Steve McQueen’s heist thriller “Widows,” starring Viola Davis, Liam Neeson and Michelle Rodriguez; Claire Denis’ science-fiction tale “High Life,” starring Robert Pattinson and Juliette Binoche; “This Is Us” creator Dan Fogelman’s ensemble drama “Life Itself,” starring Oscar Isaac and Olivia Wilde; and George Tillman Jr.’s topical young adult novel adaptation “The Hate U Give,” starring Amandla Stenberg, Regina Hall and Russell Hornsby.
Among the notable titles in the special-presentations section will be Alfonso Cuarón’s autobiographically inspired “Roma”; Yann Demange’s crime story “White Boy Rick,” starring Matthew McConaughey; Jacques Audiard’s historical western “The Sisters Brothers,” starring John C. Reilly and Joaquin Phoenix; Jason Reitman’s political drama “The Front Runner,” starring Hugh Jackman as Gary Hart; David Lowery’s crime comedy “Old Man & the Gun,” starring Robert Redford and Sissy Spacek; and the world premiere of Peter Hedges’ “Ben is Back,” starring Julia Roberts and Lucas Hedges.
This year’s TIFF will be the first during the current era of the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements. Like other recent festivals, Toronto’s organizers will make more prominent their longstanding code of conduct for attendees, as well as feature a hotline for anyone wanting to report incidents of harassment or abuse.
Cameron Bailey, artistic director and co-head of TIFF, noted that the significance of the current cultural moment is reflected in the festival’s program.
“I think one of the most important things we can do is just really highlight and foreground the films by women that we’ll have in the lineup,” Bailey said, noting there are five films directed by women in the galas section alone.
“So there’s great work by women to see,” he said, “and if we can really all work, and that includes journalists and others, if we can all work to foreground those films and get people talking, I think that’s what we’re really hoping to accomplish.”
Aside from the Denis film, other galas at this year’s festival from female filmmakers are Nicole Holofcener’s world premiere adaptation of the novel “The Land of Steady Habits,” starring Ben Mendelsohn; Sara Colangelo’s “The Kindergarten Teacher,” starring Maggie Gyllenhaal; Melanie Laurent’s “Galveston,” starring Elle Fanning and Ben Foster; and Elizabeth Chomko’s “What They Had,” starring Hilary Swank and Michael Shannon.
Works from female filmmakers showing in the festival’s special-presentations section include Marielle Heller’s “Can You Ever Forgive Me,” Nadine Labaki’s Cannes prize-winner “Capernaum,” Eva Husson’s “Girls of the Sun,” Patricia Rozema’s “Mouthpiece,” and the world premieres of Amma Asante’s “Where Hands Touch,” Mia Hansen-Løve’s “Maya” and Stella Meghie’s “The Weekend.”
The ecosystem of fall film festivals, including events in Telluride, Venice, New York and Los Angeles, has become increasingly complex over the last few years. Regardless of whether films have their world premiere in Toronto, the festival is still seen as a vital launching pad both for a movie’s commercial prospects as well as awards-season aspirations. Recent Oscar best picture winners “The Shape of Water,” “Moonlight” and “Spotlight” have all had important early screenings at TIFF.
“We’re symbiotic,” Bailey said of TIFF’s relationship to other festivals. “There’s the coincidence of the calendar and then there’s just trying to always remember why we’re doing this — we’re doing it out of a love of cinema. Any kind of competitive aspect to it, chasing a movie you want to get before anybody else does, that’s always got to take a back seat to trying to present the films you feel most strongly about to your audience. … There’s a number of things going on at once.”
Streaming services will continue to make their presence felt at TIFF as well. The Cannes Film Festival earlier this year was marked by a controversial decision to ban Netflix releases from its prestigious main competition section, due in part to the specifics of French regulations over film distribution and exhibitions.
TIFF’s relationship to the streaming platform has been less adversarial, with “Roma,” “The Land of Steady Habits” and “The Kindergarten Teacher” all coming from Netflix. “Beautiful Boy” and “Life Itself” will be released by Amazon, which still favors traditional theatrical runs ahead of streaming debuts.
“Like Netflix, like Amazon, like the other streaming services, we’re looking for the best films we can,” Bailey said. “We’re trying to really present the best work by what we consider the strongest filmmakers. And everybody is chasing those great artists.”
Though Toronto’s reputation and prestige are based largely on its ability to launch new titles into awards season, the lineup released Tuesday is peppered with many films that premiered at festivals earlier in the year, including Paul Dano’s “Wildlife,” Wash Westmoreland’s “Colette” and Reinaldo Marcus Green’s “Monsters and Men” from Sundance, and Lee Chang-dong’s “Burning,” Pawel Pawlikowski’s “Cold War,” Asghar Farhadi’s “Everybody Knows” and Hirokazu Kore-eda’s “Shoplifters” from Cannes.
Additional titles, including films in the festival’s platform, documentary and midnight madness sections, will be announced in the weeks leading up to this year’s edition, which runs Sept. 6-16.
Toronto often notes a film as having its North American premiere, which only serves to underscore the typically close relationship between Canada and the United States. With all the other things to be concerned about in putting together a film festival, recent real-world political tensions have become one more facet worth considering.
“Really I see film as a bridge,” Bailey said. “I’m so glad so many films from the U.S. will actually be launching here in Canada, I think there is a common film culture between Canada and the U.S. and that hasn’t changed much.
“This is a way for us to come together and talk,” he added. “Film will always be that place where people can always open their minds and their hearts to other people. If there’s anything that needs to happen right now, I think it’s that.”