Hard to believe that this year’s edition of TIFF is about to commence! Although TIFF has not officially started yet the festival is already proving to be the gift that keeps on giving for me personally. A few months ago I mentioned to a fellow film writer that, due to major changes in my personal life, this was going to be a more subdued festival for me this year. Now it turns out that I will actually be seeing far more films this year than I did last year. It is funny how life works sometimes. While my schedule can change on the fly, depending on the buzz surrounding certain titles, here is the list of films I will be seeing at TIFF this year:
Sicario Denis Villeneuve, USA North American Premiere
In the lawless border area stretching between the U.S. and Mexico, an idealistic FBI agent (Emily Blunt) is enlisted by an elite government task force official (Josh Brolin) to aid in the escalating war against drugs. Led by an enigmatic consultant with a questionable past (Benicio Del Toro), the team sets out on a clandestine journey that forces Kate to question everything that she believes.
The Martian Ridley Scott, USA World Premiere
During a manned mission to Mars, astronaut Mark Watney is presumed dead after a fierce storm and left behind by his crew. But Watney has survived and finds himself stranded and alone on the hostile planet. With only meager supplies, he must draw upon his ingenuity, wit and spirit to subsist and find a way to signal to Earth that he is alive. Millions of miles away, NASA and a team of international scientists work tirelessly to bring “the Martian” home, while his crewmates concurrently plot a daring, if not impossible rescue mission. Based on a best-selling novel, and helmed by master director Ridley Scott, The Martian features a star-studded cast that includes Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, Jeff Daniels, Michael Pena, Kate Mara, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Donald Glover.
Endorphine André Turpin, Canada World Premiere
Thirteen-year-old Simone is trying to feel emotion again as a trauma survivor. Twenty-five-year-old Simone is a solitary woman trying to control panic attacks. Sixty-year-old Simone is an accomplished physician who gives a conference on the nature of time. The new film from celebrated director and cinematographer André Turpin intertwines the lives of three women in an intoxicating cinematic puzzle.
Dheepan Jacques Audiard, France North American Premiere
To escape the civil war in Sri Lanka, a former Tamil Tiger soldier, a young woman and a little girl pose as a family. These strangers try to build a life together in a Parisian suburb.
He Named Me Malala Davis Guggenheim, USA International Premiere
Acclaimed documentary filmmaker Davis Guggenheim shows us how Malala Yousafzai, who was targeted by the Taliban and severely wounded by a gunshot when returning home on her school bus, remains committed to fighting for education for all girls worldwide. Providing an inside glimpse into her extraordinary life — from her close relationship with her father who inspired her love for education, to her impassioned speeches at the UN, to her everyday life at home.
Harlan County, USA Barbara Kopple, USA
Harlan County, USA chronicles a fiercely contested labour battle in Kentucky during the early 1970s. The strike began when the miners working for the Eastover Mining Co. joined the UMW, and its corporate parent, Duke Power, refused to sign the standard union contract. By living with the 180-odd families involved in the strike, Kopple shows the backbreaking burdens of the miners’ life in the best of times and the looming fear of destitution in the worst. While the film is unabashedly partisan, it’s worth remembering that the company’s refusal to sign a contract was condemned by the National Labor Relations Board and that the corporation agreed to sign only under heavy pressure from federal mediators.
Five Nights in Maine Maris Curran, USA World Premiere
Reeling from the tragic, sudden death of his wife, a man travels to rural Maine to seek answers from his estranged mother-in-law, who is herself confronting guilt and grief over her daughter’s death. Starring David Oyelowo (Selma), Dianne Wiest and Rosie Perez.
Price of Love Hermon Hailay, Ethiopia North American Premiere
A young Addis Ababa taxi driver’s cab is stolen when he gets caught up in the dark side of love. He finds himself stuck in a relationship with a prostitute, making him confront his past and discover the price of love.
High-Rise Ben Wheatley, United Kingdom World Premiere
1975. Two miles west of London, Dr. Laing moves into his new apartment seeking soulless anonymity, only to find that the building’s residents have no intention of leaving him alone. Resigned to the complex social dynamics unfolding around him, Laing bites the bullet and becomes neighbourly. As he struggles to establish his position, Laing’s good manners and sanity disintegrate along with the building. The lights go out and the elevators fail but the party goes on. People are the problem. Booze is the currency. Sex is the panacea. Starring Tom Hiddleston, Jeremy Irons, Sienna Miller, Luke Evans and Elisabeth Moss.
Chevalier Athina Rachel Tsangari, Greece North American Premiere
In the middle of the Aegean Sea, on a luxury yacht, six men on a fishing trip have decided to play a game. Things will be measured, blood will be tested. The man who wins will be the best man, and he will wear upon his littlest finger the victorious signet ring: the “Chevalier”.
London Fields Matthew Cullen United Kingdom/USA World Premiere
Set in 1999 London, this noir crime thriller based on Martin Amis’ novel of the same name features a star-studded cast, including Johnny Depp, Amber Heard, Cara Delevigne, Theo James, Billy Bob Thorton and Jim Sturgess.
CROMO created by Lucía Puenzo and Nicolás Puenzo, Argentina World Premiere
Directors Lucía Puenzo (XXY, Wakolda), Pablo Fendrik (Blood Appears, El Ardor) and Nicolás Puenzo team up for this timely eco-thriller, based on the real stories of a team of scientists that set out to expose environmental crimes in the dangerous and exotic wetlands of northern Argentina. Starring Germán Palacios, Guillermo Pfening, Emilia Attias, Alberto Ajaka and Malena Sanchez. The Festival presents the series premiere of CROMO, episodes 1, 2 and 8.
The Devil’s Candy Sean Byrne, USA World Premiere
The director of the 2009 Midnight Madness People’s Choice Award winner The Loved Ones is back with an equally fresh twist on the supernatural genre. A struggling artist (Ethan Embry) and his family buy the house of their dreams only to discover the property’s mysterious dark past and a former tenant who wants more than to simply come back home. From the producers of Midnight Madness hits You’re Next and The Guest.
Anomalisa Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson, USA Canadian Premiere
A man struggles with his inability to connect with other people. Starring Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tom Noonan and David Thewlis.
Victoria Sebastian Schipper, Germany Canadian Premiere
On a night out in Berlin, Victoria meets four young local guys. After joining their group, she becomes their driver when they rob a bank. Finally, as dawn breaks, everyone meets their destiny.
Love Gaspar Noé, France North American Premiere
January 1, early morning. The telephone rings. Murphy wakes up next to his young wife and two-year-old child. He listens to his voicemail: Electra’s mother, sick with worry, wants to know whether he has heard from her daughter. Electra’s been missing for a long time. She’s afraid something really bad has happened to her. Over the course of a long rainy day, Murphy finds himself alone in his apartment, reminiscing about the greatest love affair of his life: his two years with Electra. A burning passion full of promises, games, excess and mistakes.
Cuckold Charlie Vundla, South Africa World Premiere
Smanga is a successful assistant professor whose life suddenly unravels when his wife leaves him. He spirals into an alcohol, marijuana and sex-fuelled tail spin that places the status of his sanity, career and house in jeopardy. However, with the emergence of a long lost former classmate Jon, he finds the support to fix his life.
The Witch Robert Eggers, USA/Canada Canadian Premiere
A colonial family leaves plantation life and attempts to reap their harvest on a fledgling farm at the edge of an imposing ancient New England forest. Superstition and dread set in as food grows scarce, a family member goes missing, and the children’s play takes on a frenzied and menacing undercurrent. As they begin to turn on one another, the malevolent machinations of an ethereal presence from within the woods exacerbate the growing corruption of their own nature. Starring Anya Taylor-Joy, Ralph Ineson, Kate Dickie, Harvey Scrimshaw, Ellie Grainger and Lucas Dawson.
HURT Alan Zweig, Canada World Premiere
Steve Fonyo is a one-legged cancer survivor who completed a cross-Canada run raising $13 million in 1985. The next 30 years were straight downhill: petty theft, larceny and drug addiction. The run has nothing to do with the life of this one-time hero, and everything to do with it. Starring Steve Fonyo.
Invention Mark Lewis, United Kingdom/Canada World Premiere
Shot in Paris, São Paulo and Toronto, Mark Lewis’ anthology of films captures the ever-changing textures of these cities through moving images of glass, light, shadows and reflections, offering homage to the City Symphony films of the 1920s, while also juxtaposing modernist architecture with the compositional structures of old master paintings.
Dégradé Arab Nasser, Tarzan Nasser, Palestine/France/Qatar North American Premiere
Gaza Strip, present day. Christine’s beauty salon is heaving with female clients: a bitter divorcée, a stern religious woman, a disenchanted housewife addicted to prescription drugs, and a young bride-to-be, among others. But their day of leisure is disrupted when gunfire breaks out across the street. A gangland family has stolen the lion from Gaza’s zoo, and the police have decided it’s time to wrestle control. Stuck in the salon, the women start to unravel…
Ninth Floor Mina Shum, Canada World Premiere
It started quietly when six Caribbean students, strangers in a cold new land, began to suspect their professor of racism. It ended in the most explosive student uprising Canada had even known. Over four decades later, Ninth Floor reopens the file on the infamous Sir George Williams Riot: a watershed moment in Canadian race relations and one of the most contested episodes in the nation’s history. Director Mina Shum (Double Happiness) locates the protagonists in clandestine locations throughout Trinidad and Montreal — the wintry city where it all went down. In a cinematic gesture of reckoning and redemption, she listens as they set the record straight.
Fire Song Adam Garnet Jones, Canada World Premiere
When a teenage girl commits suicide in a remote Northern Ontario Aboriginal community, it’s up to her brother Shane to take care of their family. Shane was supposed to move to the city for university in the fall, and has been trying to convince his secret boyfriend to come with him, but now everything is uncertain. Torn between his responsibilities at home and the promise of freedom calling him to the city, circumstances take a turn for the worse and Shane has to choose between his family and his future.
The Waiting Room Igor Drljaca, Canada North American Premiere
Jasmin, once a successful actor in former Yugoslavia, now lives in Toronto with his second wife and young son. While juggling a construction job and a busy audition schedule, he dreams of re-launching an old televised stage show that made him famous in his homeland. When he is cast in a role that triggers recollections of the civil war, he is forced to reconcile his current reality with memories of his past success. From the team behind Krivina and In Her Place.
Black Adil El Arbi, Bilall Fallah, Belgium World Premiere
Fifteen-year-old Mavela is a member of the notorious Black Bronx gang. She falls head over heels in love with the charismatic Marwan, a boy from the rival gang 1080ers. The two young people are brutally forced to choose between loyalty to their gang and their love for each other. An impossible choice … or not?
Homesick (De nærmeste) Anne Sewitsky, Norway Canadian Premiere
When Charlotte, 27, meets her half-brother Henrik, 35, for the first time as an adult, it becomes an encounter without boundaries, between two people who don’t know what a normal family is. How does sibling love manifest itself if you have never experienced it before? Homesick is an unusual family drama about seeking a family, and breaking every rule to be one.
The People vs. Fritz Bauer (Der Staat gegen Fritz Bauer) Lars Kraume, Germany North American Premiere
Germany, 1957. Attorney general Fritz Bauer receives crucial evidence on the whereabouts of SS-Obersturmbannführer Adolf Eichmann, the man responsible for the mass deportation of the Jews. Because of his distrust in the German justice system, Bauer contacts the Israeli secret service Mossad, thereby committing treason.
One Breath (Ein Atem) Christian Zübert, Germany World Premiere
One Breath is the story of two women from different backgrounds but with the same desire: happiness. Elena, young, well-educated and with no perspective in her home country, Greece, is trying to pursue a better life. And Tessa, a 30-something mother and successful manager in Germany, is torn between happiness as an individual and a mother. These two women meet and their encounter changes both their lives forever.
The Ballad of Immortal Joe Hector Herrera, Canada World Premiere
Written with a nod to traditional cowboy songs and to the northern ballads of Robert W. Service, this film puts a supernatural twist on a tragically romantic Western. Voiced by Canadian actor Kenneth Welsh (Twin Peaks, The Aviator, The Day After Tomorrow) and scored by Toronto greats The Sadies, this is the third chapter in the silly rhyme collection Beastly Bards.
BAM Howie Shia, Canada World Premiere
In a dense inner city haunted by primordial gods, a young boxer struggles to understand the disturbing consequences of his explosive rage — both inside and outside the ring. Presenting the young boxer’s battles in terms both heroic and tortured, BAM combines a biting urban soundtrack with a hand-drawn, comic-book style, mashing up cacophonous drums and grinding electronics with soft brushwork and swift action.
Bird Hearts Halfdan Olav Ullmann Tøndel, Norway, 25’ North American Premiere
Benjamin and Maya share a life in Oslo. During a late-night dinner party, Maya tells a story about a sexual experience she had in Brazil. As a consequence, Benjamin’s insecurities begin to surface. Bird Hearts is a film about the power of the stories lovers tell. Starring Stine Sørensen, André Sørum and Trine Wiggen.
Mobilize Caroline Monnet, Canada World Premiere
Guided expertly by those who live on the land and driven by the pulse of the natural world, this film takes audiences on an exhilarating journey from the far north to the urban south. The fearless polar punk rhythms of Tanya Tagaq’s “Uja” underscore the perpetual negotiation between the modern and traditional by a people always moving forward. The National Film Board of Canada (NFB) invited four talented and renowned Aboriginal artists to create a program of works addressing Aboriginal identity and representation by reworking material in the NFB’s archives.
Never Happened Mark Slutsky, Canada World Premiere
When colleagues Grady and Laura have an affair on a business trip, they decide it might be easier if it just never happened.
(Otto) Joris Oprins, Marieke Blaauw and Job Roggeveen, Netherlands, 10’ World Premiere
As one couple try, and fail again, for the baby they’ve dreamed of, a little girl accidentally leaves her imaginary baby brother, Otto, behind at a restaurant. Suddenly, the definition of ‘baby’ takes on a new and completely unexpected dimension. Will Otto find a way back home? From the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival filmmakers who brought us the Oscar-nominated animation A Single Life.
Peacock (Furiant) Ondrej Hudecek, Czech Republic, 26’ International Premiere
Set in a 19th-century Bohemian village, this twisted queer romance tells a taboo true story about revered Czech writer Ladislav Stroupežnický. Starring Julius Feldmeier and Cyril Dobry.
Portal to Hell!!! Vivieno Caldinelli, Canada World Premiere
The late and great “Rowdy” Roddy Piper plays a crusty superintendent who is thrust into the ultimate fight against evil when a pair of cultists opens a multidimensional portal in his basement.
Quiet Zone (Ondes et silence) David Bryant and Karl Lemieux, Canada Canadian Premiere
This film takes audiences deep into the world of those who suffer from electromagnetic hypersensitivity. Combining elements of documentary, film essay and experimental film, David Bryant and Karl Lemieux — known for their work in the musical group Godspeed You! Black Emperor — weave together an unusual story in which sound and image distort reality to convey the suffering of these “wave refugees.”
Rock the Box Katherine Monk, Canada World Premiere
Electronic dance music (EDM) is now the most lucrative sector of the music industry but it’s dominated by men. To break that glass ceiling, a Vancouver-raised deejay named Rhiannon Rozier did something she never thought she’d do: pose for Playboy. Thanks to its impressionistic images, exhilarating montage and Rozier’s remarkable candour, this film tells the story of one woman who rocked conventions by owning her own image, her own voice, and her own box.
THAT DOG Nick Thorburn, USA, 15’ World Premiere
A dark comedy of errors unfolds as two interloping idiots inadvertently wreak havoc on the lives of others. Starring Michael Cera, Tim Heidecker and Andrea Riseborough.