The Toronto International Film Festival is, by explicit design, all things for all moviegoers.
For the Oscar fanatics, there are the splashy Hollywood titles that hope to become major players in this fall’s awards race (Tom Hanks in A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, Renée Zellweger in Judy, Adam Driver in Marriage Story). For art-house devotees who couldn’t afford a ticket to Cannes this past spring, there are the acclaimed international productions that have been causing fainting spells among critics (South Korea’s Parasite, France’s Portrait of a Lady on Fire, Spain’s Pain and Glory). And for those who stay up far too late and were raised on old copies of Fangoria, there’s the Midnight Madness run of gonzo extravagances (including, naturally, a Nicolas Cage horror movie, Color Out of Space).
But there is also a dedicated group of TIFF-goers who are here for the fleeting chance of seeing something truly unique: films that come to the festival without distribution attached, and thus may never be again glimpsed by the general North American public. (Or, more likely, they risk sitting on a shelf for months before enjoying a quiet release.) These blink-and-miss-'ems are sometimes hard to pinpoint among TIFF’s 245 feature films, given that you need to be aware of the ins and outs of distribution and sales agents and international rights and, this year, the hunger of new content-starved streaming platforms.
Luckily enough, The Globe and Mail has made it easy for you by highlighting 10 films that are screening at TIFF and – unless an eager distributor comes along over the next 11 days – may take some time to resurface in Canada and the United States. Catch them while you can.
Cory Finley made a mark with his bored-killer-teenagers thriller Thoroughbreds in 2017, and now returns with a black comedy about a real-life embezzlement scandal that tore apart a Long Island high school. The cast is certainly heavy enough to draw interest from North American distributors (certain territories in Europe are already booked), with lead performances from Hugh Jackman, Oscar-winner Allison Janney and Ray Romano.
The Burnt Orange Heresy
In theory, Giuseppe Capotondi’s adaptation of Charles Willeford’s thriller should find an eager North American buyer at TIFF’s market. It boasts marketable stars (Widows’s Elizabeth Debicki, The Square’s Claes Bang), a propulsive plot revolving around stolen art, a critical boost from closing the Venice film festival and a genuine rock star (Mick Jagger, who pops up in a supporting role). The film already has some European territories secured for distribution, but it’s an open question when North Americans will get to see it outside of its TIFF gala premiere.
Coming Home Again
Director Wayne Wang has an impressive and varied filmography at his back (including The Joy Luck Club, Smoke and Maid in Manhattan), so there’s a good chance that his new feature, based on Chang-rae Lee’s New Yorker short story about a Korean-American man caring for his ailing mother, will find life outside Toronto. But there’s certainly a bragging-rights upside to boasting about how you were the one to see it first.
Including this Ugandan action film is a bit of a cheat: It was originally produced in 2014 and it has only now been translated for an international release. But Crazy World is also likely TIFF’s biggest one-off event, given that it’s anyone’s guess when audiences will again get to experience the cinematic madness of this “Wakaliwood” epic from director IGG Nabwana.
Ask any TIFF programmer or insider for the under-the-radar film they’re truly looking forward to, and this Malayalam epic leaps to the top. The conceit of Lijo Jose Pellissery’s film seems straightforward enough – “a buffalo escapes a remote village and causes a frenzy” – until you get to the second half of that log-line, which includes the words “ecstatic violence.” Distribution is lined up for the United Arab Emirates, but for now, Toronto is the only chance audiences are getting to witness what all the excitement is about.
Our Lady of the Nile
Atiq Rahimi’s adaptation of Rwandan author Scholastique Mukasonga’s novel looks to balance coming-of-age themes (it takes place at an all-girls Catholic school) with political foreshadowing (it’s set in 1973, about two decades before the civil war that tore Rwanda apart). Afghanistan filmmaker Rahimi knows his way around adaptations thanks to his 2004 debut Earth and Ashes, and hopes are likely high that his latest can crack the foreign-language market.
Sarah Gavron’s docudrama about a British schoolgirl forced to suddenly care for her family is opening TIFF’s Platform program. But whether the director’s latest will be acclaimed right out of the gate (like her 2007 TIFF selection Brick Lane) or slink into the background (like her 2015 film Suffragette) is an open question – and one curious distributors are likely interested in hearing an answer for.
Sound of Metal
Heavy metal plus Riz Ahmed may seem like an unlikely equation, but hopes are high for Darius Marder’s drama following a drummer who begins to lose his hearing. Playing TIFF’s Platform program, Sound of Metal should be able to draw enough curious distributors based on Ahmed’s career ascent alone. The guitar thrashing and pounding percussion is just an added bonus.
Although Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead’s new film isn’t in TIFF’s Midnight Madness program, its conceit surely sounds like a good 12 a.m. fit: In New Orleans, two paramedics (Anthony Mackie and Jamie Dornan) come across a new synthetic drug that goes beyond altering consciousness into something more extreme. Billed as a genre-bending neo-noir, Synchronic should benefit from its name-brand lead stars and a plot that could lure in curious genre enthusiasts.
True History of the Kelly Gang
There have already been 11 films about the 19th-century Australian outlaw Ned Kelly, but never one based on Peter Carey’s Booker Prize-winning novel, and never one starring Russell Crowe. Australian director Justin Kurzel knows from bloody family drama – whether that be 2015′s Macbeth or, um, 2016′s Assassin’s Creed – and besides fellow countryman Crowe, the cast is filled with tough men acting even tougher (including Charlie Hunnam, Nicholas Hoult and George MacKay as Ned). Non-U.S. distribution has been secured, but sales agents are training their eyes on a North American distributor.
The 44th edition of the Toronto International Film Festival runs through Sept. 15 (tiff.net)
Live your best. We have a daily Life & Arts newsletter, providing you with our latest stories on health, travel, food and culture. Sign up today.