The Toronto Film Festival is betting on a “star-studded” event with a strong U.S. presence in September as it unveiled 60 films for its highest-profile Gala and Special Presentations programs amid historic Hollywood strikes.
Roy Thomson Hall will host a world premiere for Craig Gillespie’s GameStop short-squeeze saga Dumb Money, which stars Paul Dano, Pete Davidson, Shailene Woodley and Seth Rogen; and there will be international bows for U.S. director Chloe Domont’s Sundance hit Fair Play that went to Netflix, and another Netflix title, NYAD, a biopic about marathon swimmer Diana Nyad to star Jodie Foster and Annette Bening from Free Solo directors Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin.
TIFF earlier announced a Gala world premiere for Taika Waititi’s Next Goal Wins, a soccer comedy that stars Will Arnett and Michael Fassbender and is set for an upcoming Searchlight Pictures release.
Of course, it remains to be seen whether Hollywood A-listers will head to Canada, or skip the 48th edition, as SAG-AFTRA has banned striking members from promoting major studio and streamer-tied titles at fall film festivals like Toronto and Venice.
Despite that backdrop, TIFF has booked for its Special Presentations sidebar a host of films by actors turned directors. That includes world premieres for Michael Keaton’s Knox Goes Away, his second directorial effort, in which he stars alongside Marcia Gay Harden and James Marsden; Anna Kendrick’s directorial debut Woman of the Hour, a true-crime drama where the Pitch Perfect actress also stars as a bachelorette on the hit 1970s TV matchmaking show The Dating Game whose bachelor pick turns out to be a serial killer; and Chris Pine’s first feature, Poolman, in which he stars alongside Annette Bening and Danny DeVito. There’s also a first look for Maggie Betts’ The Burial, a courtroom drama that has Jamie Foxx starring opposite Tommy Lee Jones.
“Get ready to experience an unforgettable celebration of film and a memorable and star-studded festival, showcasing the best of global cinema for film lovers in September,” Toronto festival CEO Cameron Bailey said in a statement Monday, after SAG-AFTRA actors joined Writers Guild of America members on the picket lines in a major stand against Hollywood film and TV producers.
In all, TIFF announced 37 world premieres, seven international premieres and 12 North American premieres as part of its first wave of official selections.
The first looks in the Special Presentations program include bookings for Grant Singer’s Reptile, a Netflix murder mystery that stars Justin Timberlake, Alicia Silverstone and Benicio Del Toro; David Yates’ crime film Pain Hustlers, led by Emily Blunt; Niclas Larsson’s Mother Couch, toplined by Taylor Russell, Ewan McGregor and Ellen Burstyn; and Greg Kwedar’s Sing Sing, led by Colman Domingo and telling the true story of a theater program inside the maximum-security Sing Sing prison in upstate New York.
Toronto is either looking to the Hollywood actors strike to be over by Sept. 7, when its 2023 edition will kick off (it runs to Sept. 17), or the Canadian festival can do with far fewer A-listers on its red carpets this year to get a slew of U.S. acquisition titles in front of film buyers as part of its informal market.
Toronto also booked world premieres in the Special Presentations program for Tony Goldwyn’s Ezra, a star-driven U.S. title led by Bobby Cannavale, Robert De Niro and Rose Byrne; Azazel Jacobs’ His Three Daughters; Cord Jefferson’s feature directorial debut American Fiction, starring Jeffrey Wright and Issa Rae; and Alex Gibney’s documentary In Restless Dreams: The Music of Paul Simon, which follows half of the duo Simon & Garfunkel as Simon made his latest album, Seven Psalms.
Monday’s Gala and Special Presentations lineup announcements were supposed to come out on July 19, but were delayed to this week as the festival held conversations with indie producers, major studios and streamers, and Hollywood agents on which U.S. titles would come to Toronto in September, with A-list stars to lend glitz and glamor or not.
Toronto also unveiled international premieres for Ethan Hawke’s Flannery O’Connor biopic Wildcat, which stars daughter Maya Hawke; George C. Wolfe’s Rustin, a biopic of civil rights icon Bayard Rustin for Netflix and the Obamas’ Higher Ground banner; and Alexander Payne’s The Holdovers, which stars Paul Giamatti and is set for a Thanksgiving release after Focus Features acquired the prep school dramedy for $30 million as part of Toronto’s informal market a year ago.
Many of the U.S. titles unveiled on Monday are similarly headed to Toronto with the rights to U.S., North American and international distribution up for grabs and eyeing major acquisition deals, either at the festival or coming out of TIFF.
Elsewhere in the first wave of Gala and Special Presentations titles, there’s a focus on international auteur cinema and emerging directorial voices. The British survival film The End We Start From, from director Mahalia Belo and starring Jodie Comer and Benedict Cumberbatch, who also produces, snagged a Gala world premiere slot, as did another U.K. title, Ellen Kuras’ Lee Miller biopic Lee, with Kate Winslet.
And Roy Thomson Hall will host world bows for two Canadian films, Hate to Love: Nickelback, from director Leigh Brooks, and Sophie Dupuis’ Solo, which stars Théodore Pellerin in his third collaboration with Dupuis, and French actor Félix Maritaud. Also getting a first look as a Gala title are Ning Hao’s The Movie Emperor from China and Honey Trehan’s Punjab ’95, from India; and South Korean director Um Tae-Hwa’s Concrete Utopia will get a North American debut as a Gala title, as will Australian director Warwick Thornton’s The New Boy, which stars Cate Blanchett and had a world premiere in Cannes. And there’s a Canadian premiere in Roy Thomson Hall for Kitty Green’s The Royal Hotel, an Australian-British drama that stars Julia Garner, Jessica Henwick and Hugo Weaving.
The historic dual Hollywood strikes have laid down a big challenge for Toronto in serving as a key fall launchpad for major independent and specialty studio and streamer titles. Despite the ban on film promotion from the U.S. actors union, A-list actors with directorial debuts or follow-up titles can still attend Toronto to tout their latest work in their capacity as directors and kickstart awards season campaigns and domestic releases later in the year or into 2024. And Hollywood actors may secure waivers from SAG-AFTRA to promote upcoming indie films unaligned with studios or streamers.
If there is international star power assured from the Special Presentations sidebar, it will likely come with world premieres for Kristin Scott Thomas’ North Star, a U.K. title where the English Patient actress stars alongside Scarlett Johansson and Siena Miller; U.K. director James Hawes’ One Life, which stars Anthony Hopkins, Helena Bonham Carter, Lena Olin and Jonathan Pryce; Michael Winterbottom’s Shoshana, led by Harry Melling and Douglas Booth; Lee Tamahori’s New Zealand epic The Convert, featuring Guy Pearce and Te Kohe Tuhaka; U.K. director Anand Tucker’s The Critic, starring Gemma Arterton, Ben Barnes, Mark Strong and Lesley Manville; and Viggo Mortensen’s second directorial effort, The Dead Don’t Hurt, a Western that will also feature Vicky Krieps.
There are also world bows in the Special Presentations sidebar for Thea Sharrock’s Brit period comedy Wicked Little Letters, starring Olivia Colman, Jessie Buckley and Timothy Spall; the New Zealand pic Uproar from directors Paul Middleditch and Hamish Bennett; and the Ben Hardy-starrer Unicorns, by directors James Khrishna Floyd and Sally El Hosaini, who brought TIFF the 2022 festival opener, Netflix’s The Swimmers.
And there are world premieres in the high-profile sidebar for Lukas Moodysson’s Together 99, the Swedish director’s sequel to his 2000 crossover hit Together, a dramedy set in a Swedish commune in the 1970s; The Peasants, from directors DK Welchman and Hugh Welchman; South Korean director Hur Jin-ho’s A Normal Family; Dominic Savage’s Close to You, a U.K.-Canadian co-production; and Canadian director Chloé Robichaud’s Days of Happiness, which stars Sophie Desmarais and is set to hit Quebec cinemas Oct. 20.
The Special Presentations program also has North American premieres for Richard Linklater’s Hit Man, the action comedy starring Glenn Powell and Adria Arjona; Catherine Briellat’s erotic thriller Last Summer, which competed in Cannes; and fellow Cannes competition titles Kore-eda Hirokazu’s Monster, Marco Bellocchio’s Kidnapped and Alice Rohrwacher’s La Chimera.
There are international premieres for Christos Nikou’s Fingernails, which stars Jessie Buckley and Riz Ahmed and already was picked up by Apple Studios; and A Difficult Year, a comedy from Eric Toledano and Olivier Nakache, the French filmmakers best known for their earlier comedy Intouchables.
Toronto also booked additional North American premieres for Michel Franco’s Memory, a U.S.-Mexico production; South Korean director Ryoo Seung-wan’s Smugglers; Bertrand Bonello’s The Beast; and Argentine director Daniela Goggi’s El Rapto.
And TIFF has given Canadian bows to the Cannes Palme D’Or Winner Anatomy of a Fall, from French director Justine Triet; and Jonathan Glazer’s bracing Holocaust-set drama The Zone of Interest, which won second prize after world premiering in Cannes.
Toronto earlier announced a Special Presentations slot for Atom Egoyan’s Seven Veils, the opera-inspired drama that stars Amanda Seyfried, and French director Ladj Ly’s Les Indesirables.
Toronto Film Festival programmers will make additional lineup announcements in the coming weeks.