Filmmakers dove into ripped from the headlines stories about gay rights and illegal immigration at the Toronto International Film Festival on Sunday as films like “Freeheld” and “Desierto” debuted to mixed responses. And Kristen Stewart (“Equals”) and Tom Hiddleston (“High-Rise”) took a plunge with more experimental dramas that prompted audience reactions that were all over the map.
The day kicked off with the afternoon premiere of “Equals,” which had its world debut at Venice, with a parade of screaming fans in the rain lined up outside the red carpet for a glimpse of Stewart, Nicholas Hoult and director Drake Doremus (“Like Crazy”). The movie at the Princess of Wales Theatre started 30 minutes late, due to a technical glitch, which meant Stewart could only appear at the post-screening Q&A for a few minutes before rushing off to catch a flight.
Stewart said she was drawn to the script and was familiar with Doremus’ work as a director. “There are experiences sometimes when you’re watching a movie that have nothing to do with any previous setbacks you’ve had before,” Stewart said of the story set in a dystopian society where nobody feels emotions. “So basically I wanted to be pushed. I wanted to lose it.” Then she promptly excused herself. “I’m going to get sued unless I leave to finish another movie,” she joked, as she dashed off the stage to a round of applause.
Doremus explained that his film was a metaphor for ending a long-term relationship. “I wanted to be honest about myself and tell a true story about love,” he said.
The world premiere of “Freeheld,” a Lionsgate drama about lesbian police officer Laurel Hester (Julianne Moore) with terminal cancer who fights to secure her pension for her partner (Ellen Page) drew sniffles for the performances of the two actresses, but also complaints that Ron Nyswaner’s script lacked of subtlety. Just before the film screened Sunday, director Peter Sollett described the picture as a plea for “dignity and equality” and noted that the real people who had inspired the film were in the audience. “Thank you for entrusting us with your story,” he said. “This is for Laurel.”
The Supreme Court’s decision legalizing on gay marriage have made some of the issues that “Freeheld” dramatizes seem more remote to our current political climate. Not so Jonas Cuaron’s “Desierto,” which wades into the immigration debate currently being waged in real time with Republican presidential candidates like Donald Trump. Cuaron pushed back on attempts to demonize people who cross the border in hopes of a better life. “The problem with immigration is that people see it as a problem,” Cuaron said. “It’s not a problem, it’s a phenomenon.”
Variety hosted a dinner on Sunday night for the filmmakers of “The Danish Girl” and Focus Features, which debuted the drama about transgender artist Lili Elbe over the weekend to strong reviews. Those in attendance at the seated event at Holt Renfrew Cafe included stars Eddie Redmayne and Alicia Vikander, director Tom Hooper, Focus CEO Peter Schlessel and Variety co-editor-in-chief Claudia Eller. Redmayne said he was only going to be able to catch one movie at the festival–his buddy Hiddleston’s “High-Rise.” “I’m looking forward to seeing it,” he said.
The night ended with the Netflix party at Brassaii. Michael Moore stayed until after 1 a.m., talking to fans of his doc “Where to Invade Next,” which premiered at Toronto on Thursday night but has yet to close a deal despite several offers. Moore said he was still sorting through them to find the right home for his film.
Tim Grey contributed to this report.