TIFF provides platform for a TV industry that is increasingly cinematic

TIFF provides platform for a TV industry that is increasingly cinematic

TORONTO — Amazon Studios' upcoming series "Homecoming" starring Julia Roberts is among the five TV shows being presented as part of Toronto International Film Festival's Primetime program, which features projects that are bound for the small screen.

Based on the podcast of the same name, "Homecoming" stars Roberts as a caseworker at a facility helping soldiers transition back to civilian life.

Four episodes of the psychological thriller will be screened as part of the program, which is in its fourth year and provides a platform for a TV industry that is increasingly becoming cinematic, organizers and industry watchers said Thursday.

"As the platforms become more fluid and as Netflix is producing movies and they're producing it specifically to be seen on a streaming service, then I think the lines are blurred between what is episodic content and what is cinema," said Michael Lerman, Primetime programmer at TIFF.

"What makes this new trend in television especially cinematic is that it's non-commercial and not interrupted by advertising," added Paul Moore, a historian of movies and movie theatres, and professor of sociology at Ryerson University.

Viewers are also watching such series in a way they would theatre, he noted.

"I do think people are streaming television and binge-watching television in that cinematic way — where they get prepared for an engaged experience in a way that's socially very similar to going out, except it's staying home," Moore said.

"It's done with some preparation, it's done with some anticipation, it's done with some planning. You do it with others and you put some time aside to turn the lights down, turn the television on and watch as if you were in a theatre."

The Primetime lineup also has Facebook Watch's dark comedy "Sorry For Your Loss," starring Elizabeth Olsen, and the French sci-fi series "Ad Vitam."

Other series with international appeal in the lineup are "Folklore: A Mother's Love & Pob," a multi-lingual horror anthology helmed by six Asian directors that tackles superstitions and mythologies from each director’s respective country. There's also "Stockholm," about four friends covering up the death of their Nobel Prize-nominated friend.

Quebec director Jean-Marc Vallee is among the filmmakers who've entered TV in recent years, with his acclaimed HBO series "Big Little Lies" and "Sharp Objects."

Vallee made each series like a film, shooting the entire project before cutting, rather than going episode by episode as is often the case.

"I don't see any difference except that (TV) is longer and we have more time to explore and develop these characters," Vallee said in a recent interview.

Vancouver native Seth Rogen also entered the TV world in recent years with his AMC series "Preacher." In an interview last year, Rogen said more cable networks are providing the budgets needed for cinematic-type TV.

"I think the (TV) sensibility has shifted much more to that of an independent filmmaking mentality, almost, where they really just want smart, interesting, stories," Rogen said.

Last year's Primetime lineup included the HBO drama "The Deuce" starring James Franco and Maggie Gyllenhaal, Steven Soderbergh's "The Girlfriend Experience," the Netflix thriller "Dark," and the CBC/Netflix series "Alias Grace."

The festival, which runs Sept. 6 to 16, has also announced actress Tantoo Cardinal as well as filmmakers Taika Waititi and Werner Herzog will be among the speakers at the TIFF Industry Conference.

Cardinal will discuss her four-decade career, which includes three films at this year's festival.

The talk heralds the new Betty-Ann Heggie Speaker Series, a Share Her Journey initiative dedicated to bringing to light the challenges women face in the screen industry.

Waititi, who recently directed "Thor: Ragnarok," will chat about subjects including cinematic inspiration, superheroes, and portraying marginalized characters in films.

Herzog will speak at the TIFF Doc Conference about his new film, "Meeting Gorbachev."

More than 150 speakers will be featured in the six-day TIFF Industry Conference at the Glenn Gould Studio.

Panels will touch on everything from the craft of filmmaking to the imbalance of power, diversity and new trends.

Dr. Stacy L. Smith, author of the inclusion rider and the founder and director of the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, will give a keynote on inclusion and diversity.

Producer Nina Yang Bongiovi, who co-founded Significant Productions with Forest Whitaker, will discuss her career and ambitions for a more globally inclusive film industry.

"This is a pivotal moment in recognizing the unsung heroes in the industry," Kathleen Drumm, TIFF industry director, said in a statement.

Victoria Ahearn, The Canadian Press