TORONTO — An Alanis Morissette documentary and a special IMAX event for Denis Villeneuve’s Dune are heading to the Toronto International Film Festival, billed as more of a “big theatrical experience” than last year’s pandemic-tailored showcase.
The 46th edition runs Sept. 9 to 18 with more than 100 films screening digitally and in-person at TIFF Bell Lightbox, Roy Thomson Hall, the Princess of Wales Theatre and the Cinesphere Theatre at Ontario Place.
Outdoor screenings will also run at three downtown drive-in and open air venues.
For the first time, TIFF’s Film Circuit outreach program will host indoor festival screenings for one night at venues across the country, with details yet to be announced.
Organizers say Ontario and Canada’s accelerating COVID-19 vaccinations should permit more in-person events and a bigger lineup than last year, when a hybrid model offered just 60 features.
“For us there are two big themes this festival: one is just how excited we are about bringing people back to the cinemas, and afterwards we’ll be reopening the TIFF Bell Lightbox,” TIFF co-head and executive director Joana Vicente said in an interview.
“The other is really leading the conversation around the necessity of representation. Diversity, equity and inclusion will be part of (the whole festival), whether it’s our industry activities, our talks, and also be reflected in the selection as well.”
U.S. filmmaker Alison Klayman directs HBO’s Morissette documentary Jagged, which details the Ottawa-raised singer-songwriter’s rise from teenage pop star to international rock chart-topper.
The festival will also screen the highly anticipated sci-fi epic Dune, co-written and directed by Quebec’s Villeneuve, as a world exclusive IMAX special event at the Cinesphere Theatre at Ontario Place. TIFF will also screen Dune at theatres in Toronto and Montreal.
The big-screen adaptation of Frank Herbert’s 1965 novel heads to TIFF after a world premiere Sept. 3 at the Venice Film Festival, where organizers plan a completely in-person festival.
“This film is meant to be seen on the largest screen possible, so I’m deeply happy that TIFF will get to enjoy this ultimate viewing experience first,” Villeneuve said in a video posted on TIFF’s Twitter account Wednesday.
Other TIFF films include: the documentary Dionne Warwick: Don’t Make Me Over by Dave Wooley and David Heilbroner; the family drama Belfast, directed by Kenneth Branagh and starring Judi Dench; the star-packed thriller Last Night in Soho, directed by Edgar Wright and starring Anya Taylor-Joy; and Phillip Noyce’s Canadian-shot Lakewood starring Naomi Watts.
Canadian co-productions include: Saskatchewan-born Cree/Metis filmmaker Danis Goulet’s Indigenous sci-fi thriller Night Raiders, which premiered at the Berlin International Film Festival in March; and the animated Charlotte, directed by Eric Warin and Tahir Rana and set during the Nazi occupation of France.
After not submitting any films to last year’s festival, Netflix returns with Theodore Melfi’s dramedy The Starling starring Melissa McCarthy, and Antoine Fuqua’s crime thriller The Guilty starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Ethan Hawke, Peter Sarsgaard and Riley Keough.
There’s also an Amazon Studios offering with the mystery thriller Le Bal des Folles by Melanie Laurent.
Rounding out the festival titles announced Wednesday are the French drama Petite maman, directed by Celine Sciamma, and Benediction by Terence Davies.
More titles will be announced throughout the summer.
TIFF will also have a retrospective of prolific Indigenous filmmaker Alanis Obomsawin’s body of work, co-presented with the National Film Board of Canada.
Despite the challenges of COVID-19 in the screen industry, TIFF co-head and artistic director Cameron Bailey said the festival received a “bumper crop” of nearly 7,000 film submissions, most of which were made during the pandemic. The films will be eligible for the usual awards, including the People’s Choice prize.
Bailey said it feels like a uniquely “pan-Canadian festival,” with in-person screenings across the country and digital streams available nationally through the TIFF Bell Lightbox and TIFF Bell Digital Talks platforms. International audiences will be able to stream through the press and industry platform.
Vicente said they wanted to continue offering digital streams to reach wider audiences and for those who might not be able to travel to Toronto.
At the same time, they wanted to remind audiences “of the magic of the shared experience in a dark room” after a devastating year for cinemas, she added.
With pandemic protocols changing rapidly and the highly contagious Delta variant circulating, many festival logistics are still to be determined, including whether there will be vaccine requirements.
Vicente said they’re working with medical experts as well government officials on safety protocols and can’t yet say what the audience capacity will be for in-person screenings, which will be socially distanced with mask-wearing and have no concession-stand sales nor rush ticket lines.
She said they hope that by September, film talent will be allowed to travel to Canada and maybe walk an indoor red carpet, but they don’t anticipate using any volunteers this year.
Bailey said this has actually been a more challenging year than last year “because there’s been so much change.”
“Last year, we were all hit with the pandemic all over the world roughly in similar ways, and we were all responding,” he said. “Now, we’re in a place where things are in different stages in different places.”
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