After going hybrid for last year’s 45th edition of the annual festival, the Toronto International Film Festival has today announced early plans for a festival that more closely resembles pre-pandemic festivities. On September 9, TIFF will kick off 10 days of cinema with over 100 films in its Official Selection, many of which will be announced later this summer. However, the festival has revealed 12 titles already confirmed for the lineup, including the IMAX premiere of Denis Villeneuve’s “Dune” and Edgar Wright’s thriller “Last Night in Soho.”
Per today’s announcement, TIFF hopes to “bring the theatrical experience back to life and continue its reputation as both a leader in amplifying under-represented cinematic voices and a bellwether for programming award-winning films from around the globe.”
It remains to be seen, however, who can actually show up to see those titles. High-profile studio titles like “Dune” were not expected to be available on the festival’s virtual platform. Nevertheless, in a joint interview with IndieWire, TIFF co-heads Cameron Bailey and Joana Vicente said that all films had been invited to premiere both in-person and virtually for Canadian audiences, while the press and industry screening platform launched last year will remain in place. “This will be a part of the festival going forward,” Bailey said. “We saw so many festivals going online as a necessity, but it’s a feature for us now.”
The Canadian border remains closed to U.S. travelers, and the U.S. extended that closure for all but essential travelers through July 21 earlier this week. It’s not clear if that date will hold. While the initial vaccine rollout in Canada was hobbled by a strategic decision to delay second doses, recent statistics have shown improvement on that front, as 75 percent of Canadians have received a first dose and 25 percent are completely vaccinated. In early July, Canadians and people who work in the country will be allowed to leave and come back to the country without any quarantine restrictions. “We’re very optimistic,” Vicente said. “We just feel looking at the big picture that all the indicators are there that people will able to join us in September.”
The IMAX screening of “Dune” will follow its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival and take place at the Cinesphere Theatre at Ontario Place, the first permanent IMAX venue in the world. “It was literally a big get for us,” Bailey said. “Denis Villeneuve a Canadian filmmaker using Canadian technology and we’re showing it at the first theater to show the IMAX. I think the film will have a different kind of impact. It’s going to be spectacular to watch it that way.”
Bailey added that the film, which premieres on HBO Max and in theaters on October 1, could have awards potential. “Denis has accomplished something that’s very hard for any filmmaker to do — creating a visual language for these novels and directing a whole suite of actors,” he said. “I hope awards bodies can recognize that. The production design, cinematography, and sound work is very strong. I hope it’s not penalized for being a big movie.”
As for “Soho,” the thriller finds Wright venturing into darker territory with the story of a young woman (Thomasin McKenzie) traveling back in time to 1960s London and inhabiting the body of an iconic singer (Anya Taylor-Joy). Bailey called it “a beautiful and disturbing doppelgänger story” loaded with references to classic cinema. “It’s a film that just drifts with the love of movies and cinema,” Bailey said. “There are references to Italian giallos and Hammer horror for those who want to pick them up, but it’s also just non-stop fun even though it’s about about a serious subject. The filmmaking is just exhilarating.”
Bailey said that the festival has received a record number of submissions estimated at 7,000 films. Further programming selections, including the Gala and Special Presentation titles, were expected to be announced next month. Films selected for TIFF’s other programs, including Contemporary World Cinema, Discovery, TIFF Docs, Midnight Madness, Primetime, and Wavelengths, will be announced on July 28. TIFF Short Cuts and the Platform Program will be announced on August 11.
The programming team expected to have a minimal presence at Cannes in the coming weeks as it doubles down on its next announcements. “Right now we’ve got to buckle down and complete our selection to keep track of what’s changing on the logistical side,” Vicente said. “Given all of the uncertainty about what we’ve been going through over the past year and that we had a smaller festival last year, we thought it was important to paint a picture of what we were doing now.”
Additional titles confirmed for the selection include Céline Sciamma’s “Petite Maman,” which premiered in February at the virtual edition of the Berlinale, and Kenneth Branagh’s “Belfast,” which stars Caitrona Balfe, Judi Dench, Jamie Dornan, Ciaran Hinds, and newcomer Jude Hill. Branagh has described the Focus Features release, which takes the perspective of a young boy against the backdrop of the 1960s in the Northern Irish city where the director grew up, as a passion project. “He’s bringing his Shakespearean vision to bear on a very personal story that resonates with his life,” Bailey said.
Those titles are joined by “Le Bal des Folles,” directed by Mélanie Laurent; “The Guilty” remake from director Antoine Fuqua and starring Jake Gyllenhaal; “Charlotte,” directed by Eric Warin and Tahir Rana; “Dionne Warwick: Don’t Make Me Over,” directed by Dave Wooley and David Heilbroner; HBO’s Alanis Morissette documentary “Jagged,” directed by Alison Klayman; “Lakewood,” directed by Philip Noyce; “Night Raiders,” directed by Danis Goulet; and “The Starling” by director Theodore Melfi.
This year’s festival will include in-person screenings at TIFF Bell Lightbox, Roy Thomson Hall, the Visa Screening Room at the Princess of Wales Theatre, and Festival Village at the iconic Ontario Place.
“Last Night in Soho”
Per today’s announcement, the festival shares that it is continuing “to work closely with the Province of Ontario, the City of Toronto, and public health officials on the safe execution of the Festival, with its number-one priority being the health and well-being of both Festival filmgoers and residents of the community. Based on the provincial government’s recently announced reopening plan, TIFF is planning to operate at a higher capacity for indoor theatres by September, likely with mandatory mask usage for festival-goers.”
This year’s festival will include other screenings and events that go beyond the usual Toronto-centric goings-on, including screenings across Canada, and the return of the digital TIFF Bell Lightbox and TIFF Bell Digital Talks platforms.
New this year, audiences across Canada can enjoy the excitement of TIFF in their own communities with TIFF’s “Coast-to-Coast Screenings.” Film Circuit, TIFF’s film-outreach program since 1995, will host in-cinema screenings in select locations across the country for one evening in each location. Locations and films will be announced at a later date.
The festival leaders continue to track developments at other festivals, including the in-person and largely outdoor Tribeca Festival, which just wrapped. Vicente was in attendance, and said that she may travel to Cannes for a few days. “We continue to talk to everyone, even if we’re not collaborating as much as we did last year,” she said. “It’s just a crazy transitional time.”
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