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Dune will get a 'World Exclusive IMAX Special Event' premiere at Ontario Place’s Cinesphere during this year's festival.

Courtesy Warner Bros. Entertainment

Melissa McCarthy, Kenneth Branagh, Naomi Watts, Anya Taylor-Joy and the entire population of the desert alien planet Arrakis are heading to the Toronto International Film Festival this September.

On Wednesday morning, TIFF announced a sampling of the 100-plus films that will play as part of this year’s hybrid festival, which will include digital screenings available to audiences across the country and in-person premieres. And perhaps a few red carpets, public-health and border restrictions permitting.

“We probably won’t be able to have the same kind of red carpets that we’re used to, but we’re definitely hoping that we can receive some talent and international press and industry members,” Joana Vicente, TIFF’s executive director and co-head, said in an interview. “It is an evolving situation, but we’re incredibly optimistic given how many people in Toronto have received at least their first vaccine dose, and it’s only June. We believe we’ll be in a much better space in September.”

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Leading this year’s program are two documentaries focusing on music-industry icons (Dionne Warwick: Don’t Make Me Over and the Alanis Morissette doc Jagged); director Edgard Wright’s highly anticipated horror romp Last Night in Soho starring The Queen’s Gambit phenomenon Joy; Branagh’s semi-autobiographical drama Belfast; the Berlinale hit Petite Maman, from Portrait of a Lady on Fire director Céline Sciamma; the animated drama Charlotte, inspired by the life and work of German-Jewish artist Charlotte Salomon; Melanie Laurent’s French drama Le Bal des Folles; the Siegfried Sassoon biopic Benediction from Terence Davies; the Antoine Fuqua Netflix thriller The Guilty; and The Starling, a Netflix dramedy that reunites McCarthy with her St. Vincent director Theodore Melfi.

Edgard Wright’s Last Night in Soho was among a sampling of films that will play as part of this year’s hybrid festival.

Parisa Taghizadeh/Focus Features

Canadian selections so far include the North Bay, Ont.-shot thriller Lakewood, starring Watts, and Danis Goulet’s dystopian drama Night Raiders, which premiered at the Berlinale this past March to acclaim.

But the big-ticket item is destined to be the “World Exclusive IMAX Special Event” premiere of Dune at Ontario Place’s Cinesphere. Canadian filmmaker Denis Villeneuve’s highly anticipated adaptation of Frank Herbert’s epic sci-fi fantasy novel stars Timothée Chalamet, Zendaya, Rebecca Ferguson, Javier Bardem and Oscar Isaac. While the film will enjoy its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival the week before TIFF launches, its Toronto screening will mark the first time that the hopeful blockbuster is presented in an IMAX theatre.

“The special thing about having Dune here is not only that Denis is a celebrated Canadian filmmaker, but that he shot parts of the film for IMAX, and we have the Cinesphere,” said Cameron Bailey, TIFF’s artistic director and co-head. “I’m excited for audiences to see it on the biggest screen possible.”

Dune is one of the few TIFF films that won’t be available to ticket-buyers using the Bell Digital Cinema platform. While every title in this year’s festival will receive an in-person screening – venues include TIFF’s five-screen Lightbox, plus Roy Thomson Hall, Princess of Wales Theatre, Cinesphere, Skyline Drive-In, Lakeside Drive-In and West Island Open Air Cinema – some will not make the leap to virtual screenings.

“We’re aiming for everything that we invite to be available as widely as possible,” said Bailey, who is back working at TIFF’s downtown Toronto office. “In some cases, people bringing us the films are eager to reach audiences across the country. In other cases, they might have other plans that we’ll work through as we go. But the festival is meant to be live in-person in Toronto and across the country digitally as well.”

More films, including the festival’s Gala and Special Presentation slates, will be announced July 20, with further programming to be unveiled July 28 (Contemporary World Cinema, Discovery, TIFF Docs, Midnight Madness, Primetime, Wavelength) and Aug. 11 (Short Cuts, Platform). Ticket sales start June 30.

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While this year’s TIFF won’t look like a “normal” festival – the streetcar-rerouting Festival Street is not returning, and in-person screenings will require patrons to physically distance and wear masks – this September’s edition is looking less like a pandemic-era affair. The size of the program, for starters, is set to be twice that of 2020′s, and the festival is returning to the large-scale Roy Thomson Hall and Princess of Wales venues.

Meanwhile, Vicente and Bailey believe that last year’s digital-first experiment will deliver long-lasting change.

“The digital initiatives enabled us to give much more access to people who could not come to Toronto even in a normal year, and talks that used to happen in an auditorium with 500 people now happened on a platform with five million,” said Vicente. “This is an opportunity to be more accessible and inclusive.”

Still, both admit that there is no real replacement for the in-cinema experience.

“We’ve been putting the festival together for months from bedrooms and kitchen tables. But we’ve had a few opportunities to watch films in [the Lightbox], and that’s been exhilarating,” said Bailey. “You go into a cinema and you forget just how awe-inspiring it can be. The sheer volume of the space you’re in. These are things that we took for granted, and I’ll never take for granted again.”

The 46th edition of the Toronto International Film Festival runs Sept. 9-18 (tiff.net)

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