New films from Darren Aronofsky, Ruben Östlund and Sarah Polley are set to premiere at this year's Toronto International Film Festival, organizers said, as anticipation builds for the first fully in-person version of the world renowned event since the beginning of the pandemic.
After a steady stream of one-off announcements, included news that Sally El Hosaini's The Swimmers will open the festival, TIFF revealed on Wednesday a slate of 18 galas and 45 special presentations to round out its 47th edition.
With the pandemic having forced film festivals around the world to go completely or semi-virtual, it's the first time since 2019 that the Toronto event will take place entirely in-person.
"The magic of people gathered together in person can't be duplicated any other way," TIFF CEO Cameron Bailey told CBC News.
"There's a sort of special something that happens when people are gathered together in a movie theatre, responding to the very first time a movie has been shown in public, that we were happy to bring back."
Polley, Davis helming much-anticipated Canadian films
Toronto-born Polley's Women Talking, one of the year's most anticipated films, will have its international premiere at TIFF, which runs from Sept. 8 to 18.
An adaptation of Canadian writer Miriam Toews' 2018 novel, Women Talking stars Frances McDormand, Rooney Mara, Jessie Buckley and Claire Foy as a group of Mennonite women who must reckon with a series of drug-facilitated sexual assaults committed by the men in their colony.
"Sarah Polley is an icon in this country and a remarkable artist and we're thrilled to have her new film Women Talking," Bailey said. "I think many people will have read the Miriam Toews novel and it's just so interesting to see what she's done with it."
Elsewhere in the lineup is Aronofsky's The Whale, starring American-Canadian actor Brendan Fraser as a man struggling with severe obesity who tries to reconnect with his teenage daughter.
Mary Nighy's Toronto-filmed thriller Alice Darling and Canadian documentarian Hubert Davis's latest, Black Ice, are among the announced films.
Black Ice tells the real-life story of the Maritimes' first all-Black hockey team, examining a history of anti-Black racism and segregation in Canada's favourite pastime. It's a film that every Canadian should see, Bailey said.
"I've seen [an] enormous evolution in the time that I've been engaged with Canadian film. One of the most striking things is the range of stories being told now and who's telling them as well," he added, noting that another film screening at this year's festival, Clement Virgo's Brother, is set within Scarborough's Black community.
"There's a much more diverse range of filmmakers and stories that are being told on screen."
Major star power in front of, behind the camera
Movie stars like Jennifer Lawrence, Nicolas Cage, Colin Farrell, Jessica Chastain and Anya-Taylor Joy will have top billing at this year's fest.
Lawrence will star in Causeway as a soldier suffering from a brain injury; Cage in the western epic Butcher's Crossing; while Farrell reunites with In Bruges director Martin McDonagh and co-star Brendan Gleeson for The Banshees of Inisherin.
Chastain leads thriller The Good Nurse, and Joy is paired with Nicholas Hoult and Ralph Fiennes in the Adam McKay-produced comedy-horror, The Menu.
Last week, organizers announced that Steven Spielberg will make his TIFF debut with The Fablemans, the semi-autobiographical story of his upbringing in 1950s Arizona starring Michelle Williams, Seth Rogen and Paul Dano — a highly coveted get within the competition-heavy festival world.
Several of this year's buzziest titles are produced and distributed by major streaming platforms, including opening film The Swimmers and Rian Johnson's Glass Onion: A Knives Out Story, both of which will eventually stream on Netflix. Peter Farrelly's The Greatest Beer Run Ever, which stars Zac Efron and Bill Murray, will be distributed by Apple TV+.
"This year is, I think, a very healthy mix of films from traditional studios that have been around for over a hundred years with some of the newer streaming platforms, independent films that are available for sale," Bailey said.
But he maintains that an in-person theatrical experience will be emphasized this year, with just 20 feature films available for digital screenings.
That's in contrast with extensive online offerings from earlier in the pandemic, when the festival used a hybrid model, making accessible to audiences who couldn't travel or attend in person.
"It's enormously difficult to get a company that's made a movie for, let's say, five, 10, 50, sometimes $100 million, to make it widely available online weeks or months before it's actually released in theatres," Bailey said, adding that filmmakers make their movies to be shown in theatres.
"They have the rare opportunity during film festivals to actually be there with the audience. So that is something that we don't want to ever give up."
New films from Östlund, Lelio, Mendes
Among the things that differentiate Toronto from other fall festivals like Venice and Telluride is its audience, which Bailey says is known as "one of the most informed and enthusiastic film audiences in the world."
"They know movies. They're not coming with their knives out for movies," he said. "They're coming to really be wowed, be entertained, be informed by what the film is showing them."
Several acclaimed directors will bring their films to Toronto this year, including Swedish filmmaker Ruben Östlund. His latest, Triangle of Sadness, is a satirical comedy about a group of wealthy people who find themselves trapped on an island after their cruise ship sinks.
Chilean director Sebastián Lelio's The Wonder — boasting a script by Irish-Canadian playwright Emma Donoghue and Florence Pugh as its lead — will have its Canadian premiere at TIFF. South Korean maestro Park Chan-wook will bring his mystery film Decision to Leave to Toronto for its North American premiere.
New films from British directors Joanna Hogg (The Eternal Daughter) and Sam Mendes (Empire of Light), the latter a love story starring Olivia Colman and Colin Firth, were also among the films announced Thursday.