The fall film festival season is now officially underway with Venice Film Festival kicking off last week. Next on the calendar is the Toronto International Film Festival, which will understandably look quite different in the age of the pandemic. With limited-capacity screenings along with virtual offerings (geo-blocked to Canada), the overall lineup is drastically reduced from the standard hundreds of features down to the 50 or so that will premiere from September 10 through September 20.
We’ll be extensively covering the festival with reviews beginning to roll out this week, and ahead of the kick-off, we’re highlighting the 12 world premieres at TIFF we’re most looking forward to. Check out our preview below and see an overview of the must-see short films coming to the festival here.
76 Days (Hao Wu, Weixi Chen, and Anonymous)
There will be many, many documentaries and narrative features in the years to come dissecting the coronavirus pandemic and its sobering effects on virtually every aspect of human life. One of the first non-fiction films out of the gate is 76 Days, which depicts the Wuhan shutdown and its 11 million inhabitants, which began on January 23. Co-directed by Hao Wu, whose People’s Republic of Desire won the SXSW Grand Jury Prize for documentary, as well as Weixi Chen in his debut, and anonymous collaborators, their film explores the medical workers and patients on the frontlines of the crisis. We imagine it will not only be a harrowing look at how the virus took hold, but also a lesson in what the world could’ve have done differently if only more caution was paid. – Jordan R.
Ammonite (Francis Lee)
Francis Lee follows up his heart-wrenching drama God’s Own Country with Ammonite, which will have its world premiere at TIFF following being selected at both Cannes and Telluride. The film marks the British director’s second queer feature as well as the second lesbian drama from distributor NEON this year, with Portrait of a Lady on Fire opening in February prior to the U.S. going into quarantine. Set in 1840s England, Ammonite follows fossil hunter Mary Anning (Kate Winslet) and a younger woman Charlotte Murchison (Saoirse Ronan) developing an intense relationship, intertwining their lives forever. Certainly the most-anticipated at TIFF, judging by Film Twitter fervor, we’ll find out later this week if it lives up to the hype. – Josh E.
Another Round (Thomas Vinterberg)
When I saw an early still from Another Round, starring Mads Mikkelsen, I assumed it was a racing picture set in Europe, with the actor at the center drinking champagne from the bottle and surrounded by captains hat-wearing 20-somethings. Rather, Another Round is about racing to get tipsy. The title should have tipped me off, but the convivial fun pictured isn’t an image I’ve seen associated with drinking since John Cassavetes’ Husbands. Marking a reteam with The Hunt director Thomas Vinterberg, the story follows a group of high school teachers who try to maintain a level of inebriation throughout the day to see what it inspires in them. If Churchill won WWII in a heavy daze of alcohol, who knows what a few drops might do for them? – Josh E.
Beginning (Dea Kulumbegashvili)
One of the biggest pleasures of any film festival is the arrival of a new voice. A title that has caught our eye in this regard is Dea Kulumbegashvili’s directorial debut Beginning. Initially selected as a Cannes premiere, it’ll now debut at TIFF before coming to NYFF. Shot on 35mm and featuring a score by Nicolás Jaar, the drama follows a Jehovah’s Witness missionary who seeks justice in a remote Georgian village. While not much else is known about this Georgian director’s debut, we’re hoping it will make for a major discovery this fall. – Jordan R.
Concrete Cowboy (Ricky Staub)
Greg Neri’s novel “Ghetto Cowboy” has been adapted by first-time feature director Ricky Staub and co-written with producer Dan Walser for the intriguing drama Concrete Cowboy, starring Idris Elba, Caleb McLaughlin (Stranger Things), and Jharrel Jerome (When They See Us). Having its world premiere in the Next Wave category, Concrete Cowboy stars Elba as a Black cowboy Harp on the streets of North Philly, who reconciles with his troubled son Cole, played by McLaughlin. When Cole agrees to do grunt work at his father’s stable his life begins to turn around. His new freedom comes under threat when childhood friend “Smush,” played by Jerome, tempts him with drug dealing. – Josh E.
David Byrne’s American Utopia (Spike Lee)
A perfect way to open this year’s TIFF, not to mention a “movie of the moment” if there ever was one, David Byrne’s American Utopia is set to debut at the festival before NYFF and a premiere on HBO next month. Having had the chance to see the Broadway performance before the world was struck by the pandemic, American Utopia a euphoric, joyous experience that I imagine director Spike Lee will capture with much fervor and passion. Shot by Ellen Kuras (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Dave Chappelle’s Block Party), I look forward to seeing what most caught her eye in this filmed version. – Jordan R.
Fauna (Nicolás Pereda)
Following up his TIFF, Locarno, and NYFF selection My Skin, Luminous, Mexican-Canadian director Nicolás Pereda is back with the 70-minute Fauna. An clever, meta exploration of how the violence in Mexico reverberates through culture and imagination, it actually sets up a surprisingly humorous tale that should put this director deservedly on the radar of more viewers. – Jordan R.
Fireball: Visitors from Darker Worlds (Werner Herzog, Clive Oppenheimer)
After going Into the Inferno with Clive Oppenheimer, the duo will look to the skies for their next cinematic exploration. With production already underway, Fireball finds them exploring sites that may yield insight into comets and meteorites, helping them understand what they can tell us about the origins of life on Earth. With Herzog’s singular voice, we look forward to his thoughts on the galaxy and, perhaps, our own planet’s demise. – Jordan R.
Good Joe Bell (Reinaldo Marcus Green)
Since breaking out with the drama Monsters and Men, starring John David Washington, Anthony Ramos, and Kelvin Harrison Jr., director Reinaldo Marcus Green has been developing two major projects. While the pandemic delayed production of his Will Smith-led biopic King Richard, about the father of Venus and Serena Williams, he’s completed Good Joe Bell, a drama which finds Mark Wahlberg returning to a more grounded, dramatic realm in the true story of an Oregon father who sets out to walk across American to raise awareness about the effects of bullying after his son committed suicide. It has the makings for a poignant, powerful drama with a script by the Brokeback Mountain team of Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana. – Jordan R.
MLK/FBI (Sam Pollard)
Recent declassified documents show the length the FBI went to “neutralizing King as an effective Negro leader,” according to a memo from 1963. In Sam Pollard’s new documentary, MLK/FBI, he wrestles with King’s legacy as a Black Christian freedom fighter and alleged philanderer. Using research from David J. Garrow, a Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Pollard exegetes public knowledge of King through historical record, and parses through the FBI’s made-up stories about the civil rights icon. – Josh E.
The Inheritance (Ephraim Asili)
Ephraim Asili’s feature debut invokes Godard’s La Chinoise in palette, structure, and playful didacticism to weave together the history of MOVE liberation group, the Black Arts Movement, and the filmmaker’s own formative experiences in a Black Marxist collective. The film’s central narrative follows a young man who inherits his grandmother’s home and turns it into a Black socialist collective at the encouragement of his girlfriend. Produced, shot (on vibrant Super 16mm), written, and directed by Asili, it looks to be his break out after a handful of acclaimed shorts. – Josh E.
True Mothers (Naomi Kawase)
Another Cannes-selected film that will be making its debut at Toronto International Film Festival this year is the latest drama from Naomi Kawase. The prolific Japanese director’s new film True Mothers follows a couple struggling with infertility who are blessed with adopting a new daughter, only to have the daughter’s mother enter their lives years later. With the makings for a heartfelt look at what family means, we hope this is a TIFF standout. – Jordan R.
While we’ve focused on the world premieres above, there’s also a handful of notable films coming to TIFF that have premiered elsewhere in the past months, some of which we’ve reviewed, including The Disciple, Nomadland, City Hall, Notturno, Night of the Kings, Pieces of a Woman, The Truffle Hunters, Falling, The Father, and Summer of ’85. In terms of additional world premieres coming to TIFF, we’re also looking forward to the Naomi Watts-led Penguin Bloom, João Paulo Miranda Maria’s Memory House, and a work-in-progress version of Halle Berry’s directorial debut Bruised, as well as the surprises that await in the lineup.
Follow our complete TIFF coverage here.