Films starring Hugh Jackman, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicolas Cage, Frances McDormand, Bill Murray, and local favourite Jessica Chastain are heading to this year’s bigger, glitzier and mask-free Toronto International Film Festival.
On Thursday, organizers revealed 54 new galas and special presentations set to play September’s 47th annual festival, which runs Sept. 8-18 and marks a full return to TIFF’s prepandemic days of in-person screenings after two scaled-down editions spent in hybrid mode. The hefty announcement came a day after programmers named this year’s opening night selection (the fact-based drama The Swimmers), and a few weeks after TIFF began trickling out world-premiere reveals on a film-by-film basis, including the Daniel Craig-starring whodunnit Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery and Steven Spielberg’s semi-autobiographical drama The Fabelmans.
Newly announced world premieres include the military drama Causeway starring Jennifer Lawrence; the western Butcher’s Crossing starring Nicolas Cage; the Vietnam War-era dramedy The Greatest Beer Run Ever from Green Book director Peter Farrelly and starring Zac Efron and Bill Murray; the sibling-rivalry dramedy Raymond & Ray starring Ethan Hawke and Ewan McGregor; and the thriller The Good Nurse starring Jessica Chastain, who launched her successful Oscar campaign for The Eyes of Tammy Faye at last year’s fest.
A handful of the films unveiled Thursday include titles that either premiered at Cannes this past spring (including the Palme d’Or-winning social satire Triangle of Sadness, starring Woody Harrelson) or ones which will debut at this summer’s Venice Film Festival just before TIFF kicks off (including Darren Aronofsky’s dark Brendan Fraser drama The Whale, and the Hugh Jackman-led drama The Son, from the director of the Oscar-winning Anthony Hopkins drama The Father).
At least two other hotly anticipated TIFF titles – Sarah Polley’s adaptation of Miriam Toews’s novel Women Talking starring Frances McDormand and Jessie Buckley, and the romance Empire of Light from American Beauty director Sam Mendes, which stars Olivia Colman – will make their way to Toronto after premiering at the Telluride Film Festival, which runs in Colorado Sept. 2 to 5.
The Telluride premieres, coupled with comments this week from Venice’s artistic director Alberto Barbera about his festival losing The Fabelmans to TIFF (“That one got away from everyone … Then we got this surprise announcement [that it’s going to Toronto]. I have to admit that, in this case, it was a bit unpleasant”), suggest that the spirit of co-operation and collaboration that existed between the fall festivals during the heights of the pandemic has shifted back to full-scale rivalry mode.
”There’s no crying in baseball,” Cameron Bailey, chief executive of TIFF, said in an interview ahead of Thursday’s announcement. “Everyone in the festival world should see ourselves as colleagues, because we love movies and want to share that love with other people. But when festivals happen at roughly the same time, there will be overlap, and we will each make the case for our own festival. We want to deliver for our audience.”
Bailey says that TIFF plans to screen about 200 features and 40 shorts this year, and that more announcements, including such favourite programs as Midnight Madness, will be coming soon.
“A lot of people haven’t been here in two years, so we didn’t want to dump 60 or more films on them at once,” Bailey says, explaining the fest’s single-film announcement strategy up to this point. “We wanted to whet people’s appetites, and go out a bit earlier than usual – we don’t usually announce programming until the third week of July – to give people a taste and get them excited.”
Already, a good portion of this year’s lineup is arriving courtesy of streamers, including Apple TV+, Prime Video, Paramount, and Netflix (the latter of which is distributing The Swimmers, marking the streaming giant’s second opening-night TIFF film after 2018′s Outlaw King).
”We’ve been pretty consistent: we go where the good movies are and where the talent is,” Bailey said. “The best filmmakers in the world are working with streamers as much, or sometimes more in terms of the volume of films being made, than traditional theatrical distributors. The landscape has changed.”
While the 2020 and 2021 editions of TIFF offered nearly a full range of virtual screenings, this year’s edition will only contain what Bailey calls a “taste” of online options: about 20 features curated from the official selection that will be available to watch at home across the country.
“Everybody who can be here, we want here,” says Bailey.
The CEO, who is this year leading his first TIFF solo after former co-head Joanna Vicente departed for the Sundance Institute this past fall, doesn’t anticipate any COVID-19 restrictions on how the festival is presented. But he is also making sure that his team keeps a close eye on the travel situation in and out Pearson airport, which has sparked embarrassing headlines in recent weeks.
“We’re in touch with everyone who can help in terms of various authorities and officials,” Bailey said. “And the height of the travel season dies down right after Labour Day, when our festival starts. So we expect things will improve not only at our airport but around the world.”
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