Regina King directorial effort among 'important and urgent' voices in TIFF

TORONTO — Regina King's feature directorial debut and two projects from Metis/Algonquin director Michelle Latimer are bound for the Toronto International Film Festival.

Organizers have announced all 50 titles for September's pandemic-tailored event, which will include online public screenings geoblocked for Canada and drive-ins. In-theatre screenings are still up in the air.

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On the list is King's "One Night in Miami," which writer Kemp Powers adapted from his own stage play and stars Kingsley Ben-Adir, Leslie Odom Jr., Eli Goree and Aldis Hodge.

The story centres on a pivotal 1964 meeting between boxer Cassius Clay (later known as Muhammad Ali), civil rights activist Malcolm X, singer Sam Cooke, and football player Jim Brown.

In the documentary "76 Days," a trio of directors charts the course of the COVID-19 pandemic.

And Toronto-based Latimer will debut her film "Inconvenient Indian," based on Thomas King's book, as well as her upcoming CBC series "Trickster," adapted from a trilogy of novels by Eden Robinson.

TIFF co-head and artistic director Cameron Bailey says the lineup has many vital voices telling stories that "feel especially urgent" amid the pandemic and protests for racial and social justice.

"There are several films this year in the festival that feel that they are especially connected to this moment."

Other examples include "MLK/FBI" by Sam Pollard, about the FBI's surveillance of Martin Luther King Jr.

Mohawk filmmaker Tracey Deer's Canadian drama "Beans" is about a 12-year-old Mohawk girl coming of age during the Oka Crisis.

And the previously announced opening night presentation, Spike Lee's filmed version of David Byrne's Broadway concert "American Utopia," is described as an up-to-the-minute, optimistic response to the protests against racial injustice.

"Putting this year's festival together, there were so many strong films directed by women from many different parts of the world, directed by Black filmmakers, Indigenous filmmakers, filmmakers of colour," Bailey said in an interview.

"It was pretty easy to include a large number of them in the lineup this year, because it just happened to be a great year; because these voices I think are especially important and urgent right now. Audiences are crying out for a wider range of representation onscreen."

Mira Nair's coming-of-age BBC series "A Suitable Boy," set in North India, will close the festival, which runs Sept. 10-19.

Other small-screen fare includes "The Third Day," an upcoming miniseries starring Jude Law and Naomie Harris.

Big names can also be found in the thriller film "I Care A Lot" by J Blakeson, starring Rosamund Pike, Peter Dinklage, and Chris Messina.

Naomi Watts, Andrew Lincoln, and Jacki Weaver star in "Penguin Bloom" by Glendyn Ivin, based on Bradley Trevor Greive's book about a tiny bird that gives hope to a family at a difficult time.

And "Shadow In The Cloud" by Roseanne Liang is a horror starring Chloe Grace Moretz.

Meanwhile, Werner Herzog and Clive Oppenheimer will debut their Apple TV Plus documentary "Fireball: Visitors from Darker Worlds."

Other films in the Canadian lineup include the documentary "No Ordinary Man" by Aisling Chin-Yee and Chase Joynt, about American transgender jazz musician Billy Tipton.

"The New Corporation: An Unfortunately Necessary Sequel" by Joel Bakan and Jennifer Abbott is a followup to a 2003 documentary about corporate power.

And "Violation" is a psychological thriller from Madeleine Sims-Fewer and Dusty Mancinelli.

With many elements still up in the air during the pandemic, TIFF hasn't revealed exactly how the festival's 45th instalment will unfold.

But TIFF co-head and executive director Joana Vicente did say they'll be relying heavily on drive-ins and have at least two such venues lined up, which they'll announce in the next week or so.

She also said TIFF is still considering some indoor screenings, since the province of Ontario is moving into Stage 3 of its COVID-19 reopening process on Friday, but details are still to come.

Earlier this month TIFF launched a digital platform for movie rentals, which it will use for its online festival screenings.

Vicente said the public version of the platform will be geoblocked for Canada and use the same principles of in-person screenings, with limitations on the amount of people who can see a film at a given time.

The platform's industry and press version will be accessible internationally, said Vicente.

TIFF has said it is collaborating with other film festivals — several titles will screen at Venice International Film Festival before Toronto.

Venice titles on TIFF's list include Chloe Zhao's "Nomadland," starring Frances McDormand; and Kornel Mundruczo's U.S./Canada/Hungary co-production "Pieces of a Woman," starring Vanessa Kirby, Shia LaBeouf, Ellen Burstyn, Molly Parker, and Benny Safdie.

TIFF also has "Falling," the directorial debut of actor Viggo Mortensen, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January. And Emma Seligman's Canada/U.S. co-production "Shiva Baby," which was in the lineup of the cancelled South by Southwest festival.

Previously announced TIFF titles include Halle Berry's directorial debut "Bruised," and "Concrete Cowboy" by Ricky Staub, starring Idris Elba, Jharrel Jerome, and Lorraine Toussaint.

Bailey said they settled on 50 titles because it seemed a manageable number.

Despite production shutdowns, they still had "thousands of submissions this year" and "many films that were already completed or were able to finish remotely."

Still, it was tough programming a limited offering, he said.

Last month TIFF also had to lay off 31 full-time staff and cut salaries due to the financial hit from the pandemic.

"There was so much that was way beyond our control, and honestly, still is in terms of where the pandemic will go," Bailey said.

"But we knew that if we found 50 strong films that we really fell in love with, that we could commit to those and bring them to our audience in the strongest way possible."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 30, 2020.

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