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This Oct. 20, 2019, file photo shows David Byrne, foreground centre, during the Broadway opening night curtain call of David Byrne's American Utopia, in New York. Spike Lee's filmed version of the show will help kick off this year's Toronto International Film Festival.

The Canadian Press

The 45th Toronto International Film Festival will be a much diminished event this year due to the coronavirus pandemic, but it has an opening-night film. Spike Lee’s filmed version of David Byrne’s Broadway theatrical concert American Utopia will kick off the largely virtual fall festival.

Festival organizers said Tuesday that American Utopia will premiere on September 10 in Toronto, even if it remains unclear if it will be a physical screening. That, the festival noted, will be contingent on the dictates of Ontario health officials. TIFF’s Toronto headquarters currently remain closed.

Much of the film industry won’t be able to attend, regardless. The festival said Monday that all screenings for press and industry members will be held on a digital platform. Non-essential travel between the U.S. and Canada is restricted through at least late August.

Story continues below advertisement

TIFF 2020: All the films premiering at this year’s festival

TIFF confirms 2020 festival to run this September, with hopes for ‘largely in-person experience'

In late June, TIFF announced plans for a festival both virtual and in-person, with just a fraction of the usual 250-400 feature films that annually debut at North America’s largest film festival. Toronto organizers have announced about 50 movies for this year’s edition, though the line-up has little similarity to the usual barrage of starry awards contenders and major Hollywood fall films that typically launch in Toronto.

The former Talking Heads frontman’s American Utopia played at New York’s Hudson Theatre from October 2019 through February 2020. A fall return was planned before the pandemic shuttered Broadway through the end of the year. The show features Byrne and 11 musical artists from around the world performing songs from the 2018 album of the same title, as well as Talking Heads hits.

HBO will premiere American Utopia this fall.

“Spike Lee has somehow always been exactly of his moment and ahead of his time,” said Cameron Bailey, TIFF’s artistic director and co-head. “With David Bryne’s American Utopia, he brings Byrne’s classic songs and joyous stagecraft to the screen just when we need it. Spike’s latest joint is a call to connect with one another, to protest injustice, and, above all, to celebrate life.”

The 45th Toronto International Film Festival is set to run September 10–19.

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