DEADLINE – The Toronto Film Festival is back this year.
Seriously, it’s really back.
Unlike last year, which was a significantly quieter festival with fewer stars and feature films at a count of 130, this year TIFF will see the celebratory closing down of King Street (sans streetcars), full-capacity maskless theaters, no proof of vaccinations, live press conferences and the return of concessions and orange shirt volunteers. It also will feature a robust curation of 260 feature films, of which Thursday the fest announced 18 galas and 45 special presentations.
In a fall and holiday corridor at the domestic box office that’s chock-a-block full of adult counterprogramming primed for awards season, distributors require a TIFF launch now more than ever in order to generate buzz and stoke older moviegoers who are still slow to return during the pandemic. A critically acclaimed film out of TIFF can propel a movie to cross over to wider audiences. Cases in point: the 2019 TIFF world premiere of Hustlers, which became Jennifer Lopez’s highest-grossing live-action movie stateside with $105 million, and even the 2018 North American premiere of A Star Is Born, which saw its way to a $215M-plus stateside gross, eight Oscars noms and one win.
“There are movies that will launch on the heels of the festival, that I hope adult audiences will see and revive that moviegoing habit. Thankfully that’s been done with the summer blockbusters. There’s a different kind of movie that launches in the fall, and we’re hoping audiences go and see them,” says TIFF CEO Cameron Bailey.
Outside of the already announced nine world premieres — including opening-night Netflix movie The Swimmers from Sally El Hosaini, Rian Johnson’s Netflix title Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery, Billy Eichner’s Bros, Clement Virgo’s Brother, Sanaa Lathan’s On the Come Up, the Harry Styles Amazon Prime pic My Policeman, Viola Davis starrer The Woman King, Steven Spielberg’s autobiopic The Fabelmans and Lena Dunham’s Catherine Called Birdy — there are works by Martin McDonagh (The Banshees of Inisherin); Sam Mendes (Empire of Light); Tyler Perry (A Jazzman’s Blues); Catherine Hardwicke (Prisoner’s Daughter); Darren Aronofsky’s The Whale starring a very transformed, and big, Brendan Fraser; Peter Farrelly (The Greatest Beer Run Ever); and Reginald Hudlin (the Sidney Pointier documentary Sidney) among several others.
Other star-studded world premieres include Jennifer Lawrence in the U.S. military veteran drama Causeway; Nicolas Cage in Butcher’s Crossing; Anna Kendrick in Alice, Darling; Jessica Chastain (who started her path to a Best Actress Oscar win last year at TIFF with The Eyes of Tammy Faye) and Eddie Redmayne in Netflix’s The Good Nurse; Anya Taylor-Joy, Nicholas Hoult and Ralph Fiennes in The Menu; Lily James and Emma Thompson in What’s Love Got To Do With It?; Jonathan Majors and Glen Powell in Devotion; Judi Dench in Sir Richard Eyre’s geriatric ward drama Allelujah; and Sally Hawkins and Steve Coogan in Stephen Frears’ The Lost King.
Last year, films competing for the coveted Oscar bellwether TIFF prize, the Grolsch People’s Choice Award, were required to screen at the festival in-person and online. This year those rules have changed as Bailey says “We are a fully in-person festival.”
In regards to the hybrid nature of this year’s 47th edition, “We will only have a small sampling of films available in Canada for at-home viewing online. The festival is happening in-person, in theaters, and that’s where we want to see everyone.”
“We’re excited to welcome some of the most celebrated figures in movies back to Toronto to present their Gala and Special Presentation films,” he continues. “With stories that span six continents and feature performances you just have to see, this lineup delivers the rich experiences we wait all year for. Cinema is alive. Red carpets are back. And the best audience in the world awaits them in Toronto.”
Typically, Spielberg’s awards-season entries go down to the wire in post before their release (remember 2005’s Munich?), but here’s the three-time Oscar winner has a November release roaring to go at TIFF. Not to mention, the filmmaker doesn’t always world premiere his movies at festivals; Ready Player One being the last title at SXSW. Talking about how TIFF notched the filmmaker’s first ever movie at the festival, Bailey explained, “We are longtime partners with Universal Pictures. We speak with them about what they have coming up in the fall — this was, of course, high on our list, and on their list as well.”
“When we saw the film, we responded in a strong emotional way. I sent a note, which was passed on to Steven, about our own reaction to the film, how moved we were by it, how it’s a beautiful love letter to films and movies,” he continues.
“Toronto is a place where the audience is paramount. The audience defines the shape of the festival, defines the films that everyone is speaking about and go on to further notice and elsewhere,” Bailey said. “The emotional reaction that we had when we saw it will be amplified when our audience sees it; that embrace will be stronger and fiercer than anywhere else.”
Talk about a festival that’s looking to be loud a year after Hollywood was reluctant to venture across the re-opened Canadian border: mega-performing artist Styles will reportedly be in Toronto for the world premiere of his love triangle movie My Policeman. However, curiously not receiving a North American premiere after its Venice Film Festival world premiere is the Styles-starring, Olivia Wilde-directed erotic drama Don’t Worry Darling. Sources have told Deadline that a situation didn’t want to be created at TIFF whereby a star such as Styles has competing projects pulling on his profile. Says Bailey about why Don’t Worry Darling is M.I.A. at TIFF, “Great question, not one for me, that’s one for Warner Bros,” further adding that in regards to Styles’ other title at the fest, “if you’re looking for edgy, you’re going to want to see My Policeman.”
With the vibrant return of an in-person festival, Bailey says that drive-in premieres, which were implemented during the pandemic, will be no longer.
“We had a two-year run with drive-ins and it was an exciting new thing for us to do, but there’s all kinds of new complications of showing movies to people who are sitting in their cars, as you can imagine, but for the moment, we’re done,” Bailey says.
Before the pandemic forced TIFF to go hybrid over the last two years, attendance in 2019 reached a reported 307,362 in its last in-person event. Bailey feels upbeat that with the increased offerings this year, audiences will indeed return to the fest.
“We are expecting full houses. We know from the ticket packages that we had going for the last few weeks, some of them have already gone off sale, but there’s a lot still available. There’s enough appetite for what we’ve seen so far that we’re expecting a big audience.”
Written by jen on July 29 2022