41st Toronto International Film Festival Coverage: Day Four

September 11th, 2016 by Ian Evans

It’s September 11th and day four of TIFF 2016. I was covering the Festival on this day in 2001 and it only seems fitting that the first premiere at Roy Thomson Hall is about another city that faced devastation. Lone Scherfig’s Their Finest stars Gemma Arterton, Bill Nighy, Jack Huston and Richard E. Grant in a story about a group of filmmakers trying to make an inspirational film during the Blitz of London in World War II.

Loving, which premiered earlier this year at Cannes, was up next at RTH. Directed by Jeff Nichols, it tells the true story of Richard and Mildred Loving (Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga) who spent a decade in a legal battle to overturn Virginia’s law prohibiting interracial marriage after they were arrested in 1958. Their fight led to a 1967 U.S. Supreme Court decision to end racial restrictions on marriage. Edgerton said at Cannes that, “One of the things that struck me while working on this film is, what happens between two individuals is nobody else’s business. Under the surface racism or negative opinion to me is something that I think we really need to talk about.”

The night at Roy Thomson ended with The Promise. Directed by Hotel Rwanda’s Terry George. The World War I story follows a love triangle between a medical student (Oscar Isaac), an artist (Charlotte Le Bon), and an American journalist (Christian Bale). As the film tells the story of the Armenian Genocide of 1915, festival organizers and the filmmakers were fully aware of the controversy surrounding it as the Turkish government continues to deny the genocide even happened.

Three films with three different moods screened at the Princess of Wales Theatre. First up was Sing, an animated comedy about a singing competition that I’ll have a chance to screen in a few days. The film is here as a work-in-progress, meaning that a few of the finishing animation touches and computer renderings still need to be applied. Matthew McConaughey, who voices the koala impresario running the competition, was joined by cast mates Reese Witherspoon and Scarlett Johansson on the red carpet.

The true story Denial took to the carpet next. Directed by Mick Jackson, it stars Rachel Weisz as historian Deborah Lipstadt, who takes on Holocaust denier David Irving (Timothy Spall) when he sues her for libel. Tom Wilkinson plays the lawyer who helps her navigate the British system where the burden of proof for libel is on the accused and not the accuser.

Rounding out the night at the POW was director Tom Ford’s Nocturnal Animals. Amy Adams plays Susan, a Los Angeles art gallery owner who is dealing with the frequent absences of her second husband (Armie Hammer) when she is confronted by a manuscript written by her estranged first husband, Tony (Jake Gyllenhaal) that she soon learns makes her confront her own past. Ford and Adams were joined on the red carpet by Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Ellie Bamber, Armie Hammer, Michael Shannon and Karl Glusman.

It’s been said that some of the best writing and performances are now on TV and streaming outlets, so it’s no surprise that TIFF has expanded into including some TV events. That was the case Sunday afternoon at the VISA Screening Room as Amazon launched season three of Transparent by showing the first three episodes of the critically-acclaimed show at the Festival.

Up next were some master directors, which was apropos considering the films were part of the Festival’s Masters section. Julieta, from Spain’s Pedro Almodóvar, plays to the Canadian crowd by adapting the short stories of the Nobel Prize-winning writer Alice Munro and moving them to Spain. The film moves across time and tells the story of the relationship between a mother and a daughter.

From Spain, we go to Belgium for The Unknown Girl from the brotherly directing team of Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne. Adèle Haenel plays a doctor running a busy but resource-stretched medical clinic in Liege. One night, after closing, she ignores a ring at the door, only to discover the next day that the woman who was trying to get her attention is now dead. Wracked by guilt, she methodically tries to discover the woman’s identity and how or why she died.

Sunday evening brought American Honey to the Ryerson Theatre. Directed by Andrea Arnold, and winner of the Jury Prize at Cannes, the film follows a group of hard-partying teens as they travel across the American Midwest selling fraudulent magazine subscriptions. Newcomer Sasha Lane plays Star, who ends up in a relationship with ringleader Jake (Shia LaBeouf) until that relationship and her place in the gang is threatened by Krystal (Riley Keough). Writer/director Arnold said that she prepared for the film by taking a road trip of her own through the States, at one point dodging tornadoes in Alabama.

Another writer/director, Nick Cannon, also had a film at Ryerson. King of the Dancehall stars Cannon as a young man from Brooklyn who figures he can help his sick mother (Whoopi Goldberg) by getting help from his cousin (Busta Rhymes) and making money in the weed business in Jamaica. While there, he becomes entranced by the dancehall scene and also by a couple of women who offer him a choice of two different lifestyles.

The night at Ryerson closed with another Midnight Madness selection, the sequel to The Blair Witch Project simply called Blair Witch. Directed by Adam Wingard and written by Simon Barrett, the found-footage thriller started off being called The Woods, a ruse meant to keep the film’s origins a secret until its new title was unveiled at this year’s Comic-Con in San Diego.