New works by Kenneth Branagh, Edgar Wright, and Céline Sciamma will screen at the 2021 edition of the Toronto International Film Festival. In addition, the festival will also host a special presentation of “Dune,” the big-budget adaptation of Frank Herbert’s science-fiction novel that is set to have its world premiere at this summer’s Venice Film Festival.
Branagh’s “Belfast,” a coming-of-age story that follows a young boy in Northern Ireland growing up amidst the political tumult of the 1960s; Wright’s twisty horror film “Last Night in Soho”; and Sciamma’s “Petite Maman,” her follow-up to 2019’s “Portrait of a Lady on Fire,” are among the films tapped for the festival’s official selection. Other notable features that will make the trip to Canada include HBO’s Alanis Morissette documentary “Jagged,” which is directed by Alison Klayman, and “The Starling,” an off-beat comedy-drama directed by Theodore Melfi that stars Melissa McCarthy as a woman obsessed with killing a bird that’s nested in her backyard.
The long-running celebration of movies, now in its 46th year, will also return to in-person screenings at some of its most prominent venues, including TIFF’s signature Bell Lightbox theater, as well as the cavernous Roy Thomson Hall and Princess of Wales Theatre. Last year’s festival, which took place as COVID-19 was raging unchecked around the world, included a handful of drive-in screenings and digital premieres.
That’s welcome news for the movie business, which had wondered how Toronto would move forward this year. Initially, Canada lagged behind the U.S. and other countries in Europe in vaccine distribution, although the situation has improved considerably. At the same time, travel between the U.S. and Canada remains restricted, with Canada signaling that 75% of the people in the country would need to be vaccinated for the borders to be fully opened. Right now, that stands at 20 %. Dr. Peter Nord, TIFF’s consultative partner on health and safety for the pandemic, said that the festival was “confident” about returning to in-person events because the rollout of vaccines in Canada has dramatically accelerated.
“Canada’s first-dose immunization rate has surpassed the U.S., and recently reached the best rates in the world,” he said. “As of today in Toronto, more than 75% of adults have received their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 25% have received their second dose. We fully anticipate that by the time the festival arrives, all Ontarians will have the opportunity to be fully vaccinated. Public health indicators, such as hospitalizations, ICU occupancy, and case rates indicate that we’re on the right — and safe — path to fully reopening. In addition, audiences will confidently be able to enjoy in-cinema screenings by maintaining a safe physical distance and wearing a mask.”
Still, TIFF’s leadership acknowledged that international crowds might be more sparse in 2021 than they are traditionally. Hollywood often uses the festival as a key launching ground for its award season contenders, screening past Oscar winners such as “Nomadland,” “Green Book,” and “Roma” in Toronto before rolling them out to the general public. This year’s festival will take place Sept. 9 to Sept. 18.
“It is so powerful to be able to share these films with Festival-goers in theatres. And while the world is definitely moving towards a degree of normalcy, many of our industry and press colleagues may not be able to travel across international borders,” said Joana Vicente, TIFF executive director and co-head.
Vicente said the festival will bring back its digital cinema platform in order to host screenings for members of the press and studio executives, as well as host virtual press conferences and other events. That signals that TIFF will deploy something of a hybrid model at a time when festivals like Cannes and Venice are moving forward with more traditional festivals.
“We believe that digital access is an important part of providing accessibility to audiences and will be vital to the future of film festivals,” said Vicente. “This inclusivity across all our offerings helps to ensure that, no matter where you are located, you can participate in the Festival.”
Other films in the official selection include “Charlotte,” directed by Eric Warin and Tahir Rana, “Dionne Warwick: Don’t Make Me Over,” directed by Dave Wooley and David Heilbroner, “Lakewood,” directed by Philip Noyce, and “Night Raiders,” directed by Danis Goulet.
The festival said more than 100 films will screen in its Official Selection. The rest of those titles will be announced in the coming weeks.