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Julianne Moore and Ben Platt star in the film adaptation of the musical Dear Evan Hansen, which is the opening night selection at the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival.

Universal Pictures

Movies starring Amy Adams, Jessica Chastain, Riz Ahmed, Penelope Cruz and one extremely Big Red Dog are heading to this year’s Toronto International Film Festival.

On Tuesday, organizers revealed a wealth of titles set to play September’s 46th annual festival, which runs Sept. 9-18, including the opening night selection (the musical Dear Evan Hansen, co-starring Adams) and the closing night film (Zhang Yimou’s long-delayed Cultural Revolution-set drama, One Second). A slate of other buzzy productions will appear at TIFF, including the Cannes-certified drama Bergman Island, starring Tim Roth and Vicky Krieps; the darkly comic biopic The Eyes of Tammy Faye starring Chastain and Andrew Garfield; the sci-fi thriller Encounter starring Ahmed; the film-industry satire Official Competition starring Cruz and long-time collaborator Antonio Banderas; and, perhaps most surprisingly, the children’s film Clifford the Big Red Dog.

Darby Camp and Jack Whitehall star in the children’s film Clifford the Big Red Dog, which will get a matinee gala at TIFF.

Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

Clifford is just fun!” said TIFF’s artistic director and co-head, Cameron Bailey. “So many people have grown up with the books and TV series, and here’s this big-screen version with an incredibly stacked cast of comic performers. We felt like children who have been cooped up for so long needed this, and we’re going to play it as a matinée gala at Roy Thomson Hall so families can attend.”

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Other titles include the historical drama The Electrical Life of Louis Wain starring Benedict Cumberbatch; director Barry Levinson’s boxing drama The Survivor starring Ben Foster; and the world premiere of Canadian filmmaker Michael McGowan’s All My Puny Sorrows, adapted from the award-winning Miriam Toews novel about the tense relationship between two sisters (played here by Canadians Alison Pill and Sarah Gadon).

The Eyes of Tammy Faye stars Jessica Chastain as Tammy Faye Bakker and Andrew Garfield as Jim Bakker.

Daniel McFadden/Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures / 20th Century Studios

TIFF’s announcement comes a day after the federal government announced a loosening of border restrictions. Fully vaccinated Americans will now be able to visit Canada without needing to quarantine starting Aug. 9. Inoculated visitors from the rest of the world will be able to enter the country starting Sept. 7, two days before this year’s festival begins.

“We’re absolutely thrilled with the news, so now we’re working on all different kinds of scenarios,” said Joana Vicente, TIFF’s executive director and co-head. Vicente added that “almost every title” in this year’s program will be available to ticket-buyers both at in-person screenings and via the Bell Digital Cinema platform.

This hybrid offering makes TIFF an outlier in the film festival world. The recently wrapped Cannes festival, for instance, eschewed any digital component, while upcoming fests like Venice and Telluride are also set to go theatre-only, a move that may more easily appease distributors and studios that tend to prefer the buzz and intimacy of physical screenings.

“We really feel that digital makes it more accessible and inclusive. There is also a real need for people who cannot attend to connect, to see the films and to conduct business online,” Vicente said. “We thought that the benefits definitely outweighed the risks, and we’re thrilled with what the festival team has been putting together.”

Although the festival revealed a handful of titles late last month, including the Imax world premiere of Denis Villeneuve’s Dune, some of this fall’s most anticipated titles are absent from this first major lineup announcement.

Productions not yet confirmed as heading to TIFF – though this could change in coming weeks – include Guillermo del Toro’s Toronto-shot Nightmare Alley, Pablo Larrain’s Princess Diana biopic Spencer, Andrew Dominik’s Marilyn Monroe reimagining Blonde, Jane Campion’s drama The Power of the Dog, Joel Coen’s The Tragedy of Macbeth, Michel Franco’s Driftwood, and Titane, a body-horror thriller from Julia Ducournau, who made history this past weekend when she became just the second female filmmaker ever to win the Palme d’Or, the Cannes Film Festival’s top prize.

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“We started talking with rights holders months and months ago and we always presented this year’s festival as a hybrid,” Bailey said. “And in some cases, it may be a film company or a filmmaker who is not just that comfortable presenting a film online – that they really believe in the theatrical experience only. We’re pretty happy with where we’ve landed in terms of the films that will be available to Canadians across the country. And if you’re a journalist or industry member who is not able to come, you’ll still have a good and full taste of what the festival has.”

The festival is also banking on Ontario cinemas being able to maintain current capacity restrictions (50 per cent per auditorium, to a maximum of 1,000 guests per building) or boost them.

On Tuesday, TIFF added the Scotiabank Cineplex venue for festival and press and industry screenings. The festival will also hold premieres at the five-screen Lightbox theatre, and the single-screen venues of Roy Thomson Hall, Princess of Wales Theatre, Cinesphere, Skyline Drive-In, Lakeside Drive-In and West Island Open Air Cinema.

There are still no plans, though, to demand proof of vaccination in order to attend festival events.

“We’re seeing how things develop. We know that anyone who is going to come into the country will need to provide proof of vaccination. But we’re also seeing things develop in Los Angeles, with events requiring rapid testing,” Vicente said. “We’re studying the situation and will be announcing probably by mid-August all the precautionary measures we’ll be putting in place.”

More films will be announced July 28 (for the Contemporary World Cinema, Discovery, TIFF Docs, Midnight Madness, Primetime and Wavelength programs) and Aug. 11 (Short Cuts and Platform programs). Single tickets for in-person and digital screenings go on sale Sept. 4 for TIFF members, and Sept. 6 to the public.

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