Female filmmakers are behind nearly half of the films that will screen at this year’s Toronto Film Festival, representing a high-water mark for the annual celebration of the best in movies and pushing the gathering tantalizingly close to achieving gender parity.
The lineup includes new works by Roseanne Liang (“Shadow In The Cloud”), Tracey Deer (“Beans”), Sonia Kennebeck (“Enemies of the State”), Chloé Zhao (“Nomadland”), as well as the feature directorial debuts of Oscar-winning actresses Regina King (“One Night in Miami”) and Halle Berry (“Bruised”). Mira Nair’s “A Suitable Boy,” a BBC drama series about a university student’s coming-of-age, will be the closing night film, a sign of the continued blurring of the lines between film and television. All told 46% of the films were directed or co-directed by women, an improvement on last year, when 36% of entries were from female filmmakers.
“We’ve reached a watershed moment where the entire film world is embracing the fact that women’s voices have been underrepresented for too long,” said Cameron Bailey, TIFF’s co-head and artistic director. ” Now is the time where we can bring more of these films to the fore.”
This year’s Venice Film Festival lineup also came close to achieving gender parity, with women directors making up 44% of the competition — a huge step forward from 2019 when only two films at the Italian festival were made by female filmmakers. TIFF did not provide data about the numbers of Black, Latino, or other historically underrepresented filmmakers.
TIFF, now in its 45th year, usually serves as a kickoff to awards season, the time of year from September to February when studios pull out all the stops to win a date with the Oscars. Because of the coronavirus, this year’s edition will look dramatically different. It will rely on a mixture of physical events and virtual screenings, and will showcase many movies in drive-ins as a way to prevent people from spreading the disease.
Many studios, such as Netflix, Warner Bros., and Focus, which have used the film festival to launch Oscar campaigns in the past, are sitting this one out. Upcoming awards contenders such as David Fincher’s “Mank,” Tom McCarthy’s “Stillwater,” Aaron Sorkin’s “The Trial of the Chicago 7,” and Wes Anderson’s “The French Dispatch” are not among the films being showcased. In some cases, it’s unclear if those films will even debut this year. Privately, distributors have said that the logistics are too complicated to launch movies in Toronto this year — A-list movie stars are wary of traveling during a pandemic and would have to quarantine, and there are questions about the value of having a “virtual” premiere. With 50 features, the lineup is substantially smaller than the hundreds of films that TIFF usually highlights.
Despite those challenges, some studios, such as the indie labels Sony Pictures Classics and Neon, will screen films such as “The Father” and “Ammonite,” both of which are expected to vie for awards. Joana Vicente, TIFF’s executive director and co-head, acknowledged that it was hard to convince certain filmmakers to get on board with the new plans.
“It was all over the map,” she said. “There’s obviously a need for filmmakers to have this platform to show their films, to connect with audiences, to sell their films. And there were films that decided to wait until next year. Sometimes not having the films that we would usually have access to, made the team look deeper. And that enabled us to curate a fresh, diverse, really exciting slate of films.”
Vicente said Toronto is expected to begin opening movie theaters on Friday and stressed that the festival will follow public health guidelines. Despite the challenges of mounting the festival, Bailey and Vicente said that the felt that TIFF’s mission of showcasing cinema from around the world has never been more urgent.
“When the lockdown happened so many people found so much comfort in watching favorite films and trying to find new films,” said Bailey. “We knew that there was a whole crop of films that were still being made. Those movies deserve to have a great launch. We felt that we couldn’t just let them fall into the void.”
The festival also unfolds as the movie theater business has been hit hard by coronavirus closures. Both major chains and smaller, family-run venues could face financial ruin if people can’t go back to theaters soon.
“We need to carry the flag for the theatrical experience,” said Vicente. “We need to help preserve this communal art form that we all love.”
As previously announced, Spike Lee’s filmed version of David Byrne’s hit Broadway show “American Utopia” will open this year’s festival. The 45th Toronto International Film Festival runs Sept. 10–19, 2020.
Here’s the lineup:
180 Degree Rule (Farnoosh Samadi | Iran)
76 Days (Hao Wu, Anonymous, Weixi Chen | USA)
Ammonite (Francis Lee | United Kingdom)
Another Round (Thomas Vinterberg | Denmark)
Bandar Band (Manijeh Hekmat | Iran/Germany)
Beans (Tracey Deer | Canada)
Beginning (Dasatskisi) (Dea Kulumbegashvili | Georgia/France)
The Best is Yet to Come (Bu zhi bu xiu) (Wang Jing | China)
Bruised (Halle Berry | USA)
City Hall (Frederick Wiseman | USA)
Concrete Cowboy (Ricky Staub | USA)
David Byrne’s American Utopia (Spike Lee | USA)
The Disciple (Chaitanya Tamhane | India)
Enemies of the State (Sonia Kennebeck | USA)
Falling (Viggo Mortensen | Canada/United Kingdom)
The Father (Florian Zeller | United Kingdom/France)
Fauna (Nicolás Pereda | Mexico/Canada)
Fireball: Visitors from Darker Worlds (Werner Herzog, Clive Oppenheimer | United Kingdom/USA)
Gaza mon amour (Tarzan Nasser, Arab Nasser |France /Germany/Portugal/Palestine/Qatar)
Get the Hell Out (Taochulifayuan) (I-FanWang | Taiwan)
Good Joe Bell (Reinaldo Marcus Green | USA)
I Care A Lot (J Blakeson | United Kingdom)
Inconvenient Indian (Michelle Latimer | Canada)
The Inheritance (Ephraim Asili | USA)
Lift Like a Girl (Ashya Captain) (Mayye Zayed | Egypt/Germany/Denmark)
Limbo (Ben Sharrock | United Kingdom)
Memory House (Casade Antiguidades) (João Paulo Miranda Maria | Brazil/France)
MLK/FBI (Sam Pollard | USA)
The New Corporation: An Unfortunately Necessary Sequel (Joel Bakan, Jennifer Abbott | Canada)
New Order (Nuevo orden) (Michel Franco | Mexico)
Night of the Kings (La Nuit des rois) (Philippe Lacôte | Côte d’Ivoire/France/Canada/Senegal)
Nomadland (Chloé Zhao | USA)
No Ordinary Man (Aisling Chin-Yee, Chase Joynt | Canada)
Notturno (Gianfranco Rosi | Italy / France / Germany)
One Night in Miami (Regina King | USA)
Penguin Bloom (Glendyn Ivin | Australia)
Pieces of a Woman (Kornél Mundruczó | USA/Canada/Hungary)
Preparations to Be Together For an Unknown Period of Time (Felkészülés meghatározatlan ideig tartó együttlétre) (Lili Horvát | Hungary)
Quo Vadis, Aïda? (Jasmila Žbanić | Bosnia and Herzegovina/Norway/The Netherlands/Austria/Romania/France/Germany/Poland/Turkey)
Shadow In The Cloud (Roseanne Liang | USA/NewZealand)
Shiva Baby (Emma Seligman | USA/Canada)
Spring Blossom (Suzanne Lindon | France)
A Suitable Boy Mira Nair | United Kingdom/India
Summer of 85 (Été 85) (François Ozon | France)
The Third Day (Felix Barrett, Dennis Kelly | United Kingdom)
Trickster (Michelle Latimer | Canada)
True Mothers (Asagakuru) (Naomi Kawase|Japan)
Under the Open Sky (Subarashikisekai) (Miwa Nishikawa|Japan)
Violation Madeleine (Sims-Fewer, Dusty Mancinelli | Canada)
Wildfire (Cathy Brady | United Kingdom/Ireland)