Skip to main content

Films starring Lady Gaga, Julia Roberts, Robert Pattinson, Hugh Jackman, and Timothée Chalamet are heading to the Toronto International Film Festival this September.

Organizers revealed the lineup for the 43rd annual festival’s gala and special presentation slates on Tuesday morning, in the first and typically highest-profile of programming announcements that will be doled out across the summer. Yet like last year, TIFF elected to not use the splashy opportunity to reveal which movie will fill its most hotly debated slot: opening night.

“We are working on it and will announce it as soon as we have news,” Cameron Bailey, TIFF’s artistic director and co-head, told The Globe and Mail on Monday evening. “The opening-night film, like any major red-carpet slot, requires not just that we like the film, but that we have to make sure everyone – director, producers, stars – is available. That takes time, and I don’t want to rush it.”

Days ahead of TIFF’s announcement, the competing Venice and New York film festivals announced their opening-night films (Damien Chazelle’s First Man and Yorgos Lanthimos’s The Favourite, respectively). Bailey pledged that there will be an announcement between “now and Aug. 14.” Until then, audiences will just have to speculate whether the eventual selection will be on par with, say, TIFF’s 2012 opening night pick, Rian Johnson’s delightfully trippy Looper, or, last year’s selection, the wan tennis drama Borg vs. McEnroe.

Away from the opening-night conundrum, TIFF will host screenings of this fall’s most anticipated films, including Bradley Cooper’s remake of A Star Is Born, co-starring Lady Gaga; Ben Is Back, a drama pivoting on America’s opioid crisis, starring Roberts; Claire Denis’s High Life, a sexually charged sci-fi film starring Pattinson; Jason Reitman’s political drama The Front Runner, which looks at the rise and fall of U.S. Senator Gary Hart (Jackman); and Beautiful Boy, a drama about the deteriorating relationship between a father (Steve Carell) and his meth-addict son (Chalamet).

In addition to this eclectic list of films, expect plenty of eventual Academy Awards chatter about other TIFF picks like The Sisters Brothers, Jacques Audiard’s adaptation of Canadian author Patrick deWitt’s novel, starring Joaquin Phoenix; the crime thriller Widows, from 12 Years a Slave director Steve McQueen; Chazelle’s NASA drama First Man, which will play Toronto after its Venice debut; and the black-and-white family drama Roma, Alfonso Cuarón’s first film since 2013′s Gravity.

TIFF will announce its full Canadian lineup on Aug. 1. Yet a handful of homegrown titles were included in Tuesday’s first wave, including Patricia Rozema’s Mouthpiece, Keith Behrman’s Giant Little Ones, Kim Nguyen’s The Hummingbird Project, and, perhaps most controversially, Through Black Spruce. The Don McKellar-directed drama is an adaptation of the 2008 novel by Joseph Boyden, who’s recently been in the centre of a high-profile debate about cultural appropriation. And like last year’s TIFF selection Indian Horse, Through Black Spruce tells an Indigenous-centric story through the lens of a non-Indigenous filmmaker.

“I think there’s probably no more urgent conversation to have in Canadian culture right now than around representation by and of Indigenous Canadians. So I imagine that yes, this will get people talking,” Bailey said. “And this is a good thing. I think that everyone involved in making Through Black Spruce understands that it is going to generate conversation.”

The lineup was announced Tuesday via press release instead of a planned media conference at TIFF’s Lightbox headquarters in downtown Toronto. The change was prompted out of respect for those affected by Sunday night’s deadly shooting in the city’s east end, with TIFF noting that “we stand with our fellow Torontonians in condemnation of this violence.”

The upcoming festival, which runs Sept. 6 through 16, will be the last one led by chief executive Piers Handling, who this past September announced he would be stepping down after the 2018 edition. Handling has spent decades with the organization, first as a programmer before taking over as director and CEO in 1994.

Bailey, who’s held the role of artistic director since 2012 and was festival co-director for four years before that, will report directly to the board effective Oct. 1 in his new role as co-head. As part of TIFF’s new leadership structure, Bailey will focus on the artistic direction of the non-profit, while an incoming managing director and co-head will concentrate on business and “revenue optimization,” according to TIFF. That position has yet to be filled, though Bailey “would not be surprised if you saw something in the next few months to come.”

No matter who comes into the organization, expect TIFF's strategy going forward to focus on diversity.

Last year, the organization launched Share Her Journey, a fundraising campaign aimed to “jump-start gender-equality initiatives,” and last month announced that it would devote part of those funds to assist journalists of diverse backgrounds hoping to travel to TIFF this year. But of the 47 titles revealed Tuesday, only 13 come from female directors, or about 28 per cent.

“We’re looking at the films made and presented to us, and that’s all we can choose from,” Bailey said. “But I’m glad we have the new Claire Denis, the new Nicole Holofcener, the new Mia Hansen-Løve, the new Rozema – a lot of strong films directed by women that are taking our most prominent slots. Because they deserve it, and they should be seen in the largest possible platform at the festival.”

The 43rd edition of the Toronto International Film Festival runs Sept. 6 to 16.