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Frances McDormand-starring drama Nomadland will be among 50 titles set to play this September at TIFF.

Searchlight Pictures

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Viggo Mortensen, Olivia Colman, Frances McDormand, Werner Herzog and Regina King are heading to the Toronto International Film Festival this year. Or, at least, their films will. In some manner.

Mortensen’s directorial debut Falling, the Colman-Anthony Hopkins character drama The Father, the McDormand-starring drama Nomadland, Herzog’s new documentary Fireball: Visitors from Darker Worlds, and King’s boxing biopic One Night in Miami starring Leslie Odom Jr. are among the 50 titles set to play this September’s radically different TIFF, organizers announced Thursday morning.

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Canadian festival selections include The New Corporation: An Unfortunately Necessary Sequel, Tracey Deer’s Beans, Emma Seligman’s comedy Shiva Baby, and two projects from Michelle Latimer: her documentary adaptation of Thomas King’s The Inconvenient Indian and episodes of her forthcoming CBC series Trickster.

TIFF 2020: All the films premiering at this year’s festival

It is yet to be determined whether each selection in the slate will receive an in-person, physically distanced screening in a cinema or drive-in venue, or whether they will premiere online-only.

"It will depend on the film and the circumstances that we're dealing with. There are some films that will prefer to be just online, and that's the way they want to reach audiences this year," says Cameron Bailey, artistic director and co-head of TIFF. "We're tailoring it to each film to decide how it will reach audiences."

It is also unclear whether filmmakers and performers will be visiting the festival, given travel restrictions.

"Every film's team will be available in one form or another. If they're not based in Toronto, they'll be available remotely," says Bailey. "We're not anticipating people to fly in the usual way. And we have great Canadian talent here for their screenings."

TIFF has also introduced its TIFF Ambassador program this year, in which 50 filmmakers and performers – including such longtime friends of the festival as Ava DuVernay, Martin Scorsese and Taika Waititi – will engage with audiences in an online manner.

Thursday morning’s titles, which includes this year’s closing-night selection, the Mira Nair BBC miniseries A Suitable Boy, join a handful of previously announced films, including: the Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan drama Ammonite, Thomas Vinterberg’s Another Round starring Mads Mikkelsen, the coming-of-age drama Concrete Cowboys featuring Idris Elba, and Spike Lee’s American Utopia, a filmed version of David Byrne’s Broadway show that will kick off the festival Sept. 10.

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The number of films playing this year’s festival represents a steep drop-off of about 79 per cent from last year’s edition, which screened 245 full-length titles. (This year’s festival will also feature five short-film programs and a yet-to-be-announced number of interactive talks and Q&As.)

Ammonite, starring Kate Winslet, left, and Saoirse Ronan, right, will also feature among TIFF's Thursday morning releases.

Courtesy of Elevation Pictures

The selection is also noticeably thin on the kind of star-laden, buzzy films that typically populate TIFF’s lineup and have helped solidify the festival’s reputation as an Oscar bellwether. This is hardly a surprise, given that most major U.S. studios have pulled a significant portion of their films from 2020 release due to the pandemic, including Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch, the Will Smith-led tennis drama King Richard, and the Sopranos prequel The Many Saints of Newark, all of which would be perfect fits for TIFF were it any other year.

Also absent is Netflix, which has decided to skip this year’s fall film festival circuit altogether, depriving TIFF of such potential Oscar bait as Charlie Kaufman’s twisty thriller I’m Thinking of Ending Things, Ron Howard’s adaptation of the bestselling memoir Hillbilly Elegy, David Fincher’s Hollywood biopic Mank starring Gary Oldman, and George Clooney’s post-apocalyptic thriller The Midnight Sky. The strategic move on Netflix’s part is all the more harmful for TIFF in particular, given that the two organizations have formed a close partnership over the past few years, with Toronto carving out space for such acclaimed Netflix productions as Roma, Uncut Gems, and Dolemite Is My Name.

"It's obviously disappointing, as they have big titles coming up, but it gave us the opportunity to find other films, and look for a selection that will feel very fresh and modern in a way without being all the usual suspects," says Joana Vicente, TIFF's executive director and co-head, who adds that 46 per cent of this year's programming arrives courtesy of female filmmakers (up from 36 per cent the year before).

No matter the star wattage of films playing TIFF 2020, the look and feel of the 45th edition will be immeasurably different. International press, who visit Toronto in the thousands every September, turning the city into a mini-junket metropolis for a week, have been told by TIFF to stay home this year. (Press and industry screenings will be held only on a digital platform, while industry events will take place solely online.)

“This year’s programming was certainly the biggest challenge I’ve faced at TIFF, and that the festival has been through in its 45 years, which includes recessions and 9/11,” says Bailey. “But it was a challenge that the team stepped up to face. We were meeting every day remotely, and rethinking everything we do. None of it was easy.”

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TIFF will also be keeping a careful eye on how the Venice Film Festival unfolds, with this year’s event running Sept. 2 to 12, making it the world’s first in-person arts festival since the COVID-19 pandemic began in March.

“I think that the surprising news is that we’re not just watching but we’re talking to Venice in a way that we never have before,” says Bailey. “We’re aware of what they have in store, and wish them well in rolling out their festival just before ours. All of us are doing something brand-new.”

Information regarding ticket prices, venues, and virtual-screening details will be announced in August.

Meanwhile, the TIFF Bell Lightbox, the organization’s five-theatre multiplex that screens films year-round, will not be back to business when Toronto enters Stage 3 of Ontario’s reopening plan this Friday. While some staff have resumed working in the downtown Toronto building, the Lightbox’s cinemas will stay shuttered “until closer to the festival,” according to Vicente.

The 45th edition of the Toronto International Film Festival runs Sept. 10-19 (tiff.net).

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