Film festivals have all been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, but perhaps none more so than the Toronto International Film Festival. Known for its glitzy premieres and unparalleled fan engagement, this icon of Toronto’s entertainment scene faced a tough challenge in planning its 2020 edition. After months of discussions, however, TIFF Artistic Director Cameron Bailey and his team decided that the “Festival of Festivals” must go on. And while its slate is much leaner than years past, there are still many enticing films making their debut for both local and virtual audiences.
As we await the start of the 45th Toronto International Film Festival, here is a preview of the 10 world premieres we are most looking forward to:
76 Days Is there anything more timely than a documentary about the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic? “76 Days” takes us back to ground zero of this historic outbreak, examining the events and atmosphere in Wuhan as China implemented its lockdown of the city. Providing never-before-seen footage from four different hospitals, ’76 Days’ will surely be one of the most essential films of the festival.
American Utopia After the positive reception towards “BlacKkKlansman” and “Da 5 Bloods” earlier this year, there’s no denying that Spike Lee is on a roll. Hoping to continue his winning streak, Lee will open the fest with the concert film “American Utopia”. Recorded live from Broadway, this performance of the eponymous David Byrne album should get TIFF off to a rocking start.
Ammonite A little over a year ago, French director Celine Sciamma’s exquisite “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” premiered at Cannes 2019 to feverish enthusiasm which further spread throughout the fall festival circuit. This year, distribute Neon hopes to replicate that success with a similarly themed lesbian romance “Ammonite” directed by Francis Lee. Having been initially selected for Cannes, this 1840s period piece will finally make its debut at TIFF, where all eyes will be on its stars Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan in their latest Oscar bids.
Another Round As with “Ammonite”, Cannes’ loss is TIFF’s gain in the case of Thomas Vinterberg’s “Another Round”. Reuniting Vinterberg and Mads Mikkelsen after their critically-acclaimed Oscar nominee “The Hunt”, this Danish comedy depicts a man’s struggle to endure a midlife crisis. Incorporating themes of alcoholism and male friendship, it could be a major player among this seasons’ non-English awards contenders.
Bruised In the absence of the usual auteur suspects, several actors are taking the chance to showcase their directing skills at TIFF 2020. One of them is Halle Berry, who also stars in her directorial debut “Bruised”. This drama tells the story of a former MMA fighter who makes a comeback in order to regain custody of her son.
Concrete Cowboy When its first promotional images showed Idris Elba dressed as a cowboy atop a horse, fans worldwide were already sold on Ricky Staub’s “Concrete Cowboy”. But apart from the eye candy, this adaptation of the novel “Ghetto Cowboy” has an intriguing premise, exploring the unlikely subculture of urban cowboys in the city of Philadelphia. Caleb McLaughlin, Jharrel Jerome and Lorraine Toussaint will also feature in key roles among its impressive ensemble cast.
Good Joe Bell It would be easy to expect a maudlin tearjerker from “Good Joe Bell – a drama about a father’s anti-bullying walk in honor of his son’s suicide – if it weren’t for the incredible talent attached to it. Notably, this drama marks the first screenplay for Diana Ossana and Larry McMurty since their Oscar-winning effort for “Brokeback Mountain”. In addition, rising filmmaker Reinaldo Marcus Green will direct a cast that includes Mark Wahlberg and Connie Britton, in what is potentially one of the year’s most moving films.
Nomadland Due to its selection for the Venice, Telluride, Toronto and New York film festivals, no film enters the fall festival circuit with higher expectations than Chloe Zhao’s “Nomadland”. Indeed, this Frances McDormand-starrer is already generating Oscar buzz for its portrayal of a woman’s soul-searching journey across America in the aftermath of the Great Recession. With her penchant for rich character studies within awe-inspiring landscapes, “Nomadland” seems destined to further cement Chloe Zhao’s status as one of the most important filmmakers of our time.
The Way I See It With a pivotal election looming, many Americans will be reflecting on recent history to understand the nation’s way forward. In that spirit, Dawn Porter’s “The Way I See It” looks back at the Obama presidency for insight through the lens of former White House chief photographer Pete Souza. After a string of well received documentaries, this latest work from Porter promises yet another affecting examination of American society.
Wolfwalkers While film festivals are known for more serious, adult-orientated fare, TIFF has always ensured that its slate finds room for family audiences. This year is no different, with the inclusion of films like “Wolfwalkers”, a magical adventure set in 17th-century Ireland. Directed by Tomm Moore and Ross Stewart, “Wolfwalkers” is the final installment in their “Irish folklore trilogy”, which includes the Oscar-nominated “The Secret of Kells” and “Song of the Sea”.
The 2020 Toronto International Film Festival runs September 10-20.