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Movies at Toronto International Film Festival will increase audience’s excitement, raise debates on burning issues

Many of the films at Toronto International Film Festival will talk about relevant topics like equality in Hollywood, politics in Washington

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Sally Hawkins, left, and Octavia Spencer in a scene from
Sally Hawkins, left, and Octavia Spencer in a scene from "The Shape of Water." The movie premieres at the Toronto International Film Festival. VOA
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  • “The Battle of the sexes” starring Emma Stone and Steve Carell talks about issue of gender equality- in both pay disparity and directing opportunity
  • It’s a great thing for the filmmakers to have what is usually a pretty film-oriented, film-loving audience
  • The filmmakers say they are expecting a variety of opinions in any one audience at Toronto International Film Festival

New York, USA, September 7, 2017: Few institutions in cinema can match the teeming, overwhelming Toronto International Film Festival as a conversation-starting force. It simply has a lot of movies worth talking about.

And this year, many of the films that will parade down at Toronto International Film Festival’s red carpets will hope to shift the dialogue not just in terms of awards buzz, but in other directions, too: equality in Hollywood; politics in Washington; even about nature of the movies, themselves. At TIFF, expect debate.

That’s what the filmmakers behind “The Battle of the Sexes,” one of the anticipated films heading to Toronto International Film Festival in the coming days, are hoping for. After the festival opens today with another tennis movie, the rivalry drama “Borg/McEnroe,” at Toronto International Film Festival with Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris (the directing duo who helmed 2006’s “Little Miss Sunshine”) will premiere their drama about the 1973 showdown between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs.

The movie, starring Emma Stone and Steve Carell, holds obvious parallels for a movie industry with its own issues of gender equality, in both pay disparity and directing opportunity. For others, it will recall issues that dominated last year’s U.S. presidential campaign. But “Battle of the Sexes” may surprise moviegoers in its broad sympathies on both sides of the net.

“The one thing we didn’t want to have happened was this polarizing political document,” said Dayton. “Right now, there’s enough of that in the world. We wanted to tell a more personal story and keep it from becoming too binary.”

The filmmakers say they are expecting “a variety of opinions in any one audience” at Toronto International Film Festival.

“It’s really the best way to release a film, at a festival like Telluride or Toronto,” said Faris. “It’s a great way to get the word out about a film. It’s a great thing for the filmmakers to have what is usually a pretty film-oriented, film-loving audience. It gives you hope that they’re still out there.”

Actress Priyanka Chopra, left, chats with the director and CEO of TIFF Piers Handling at the TIFF Soiree, an annual fundraiser and celebratory kick-off for the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival, at the TIFF Bell Lightbox, Sept. 6, 2017, in Toronto
Actress Priyanka Chopra, left, chats with the director and CEO of TIFF Piers Handling at the TIFF Soiree, an annual fundraiser and celebratory kick-off for the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival, at the TIFF Bell Lightbox, Sept. 6, 2017, in Toronto. VOA

The Toronto International Film Festival comes right on the heels of the Venice and Telluride festivals, but the size and scope of Toronto have long made it the centerpiece of the fall movie season. It’s where much of the coming awards season gets handicapped, debated and solidified. It’s also a significant market for new films, and this year several intriguing films — “I, Tonya,” with Margot Robbie as Tonya Harding, and “Hostiles,” a brutal Western with Christian Bale — are on the block.

But most eyes will be on the gala premieres of the fall’s biggest films at Toronto International Film Festival, including Alexander Payne’s “Downsizing,” Guillermo Del Toro’s “The Shape of Water,” George Clooney’s “Suburbicon,” and maybe the most explosive movie of the season, Darren Aronofsky’s mystery-shrouded allegorical thriller “mother!”

It can be a competitive landscape, with dozens of daily movie premieres and their respective parties, all trying to stand out. But several first-time directors may end up stealing the spotlight at Toronto International Film Festival. Greta Gerwig’s “Lady Bird” will sail into Toronto on waves of rave reviews from Telluride. Aaron Sorkin, arguably the top screenwriter in Hollywood for two decades, will present his directorial debut, “Molly’s Game.”

Sorkin didn’t initially anticipate he’d direct his script. But he became, he says, obsessed with the story of Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain), the former elite skier who was indicted for running a high-stakes poker game in Los Angeles. It’s a potentially career-redefining movie for Sorkin — and he’s appropriately anxious.

“I’d feel the same way if we were launching it in Wyoming. I’m nervous because other than test audiences, this will be the first time people see it,” said Sorkin. “The Toronto Film Festival is a very prestigious place to debut a film, so I’m aware of the company I’m in and what’s expected in the movie. It will be up to others to decide if it delivered.”

“The Disaster Artist” poses a similar turning point for its star and director, James Franco. It’s about the making of what’s widely considered one of the worst movies ever made — the cult favorite “The Room,” by Tommy Wiseau. Franco, who plays Wiseau, considers it a new step for him as a filmmaker and says the film’s parody is laced with affection.

“The characters are outsiders. They are weirdos,” said Franco. “But everybody can relate to having a dream and trying to break into this incredibly hard business.”

The film will premiere to a surely raucous audience at a midnight screening. Franco, who first saw “The Room” with an especially excitable Vancouver audience, expects it to be the perfect debut for his film: “Canadians know how to do ‘The Room.”’

“The Disaster Artist,” which A24 will release in December, might give TIFF what “La La Land” did last year — a happily escapist movie about Hollywood. Other films will tackle less comic real-life tales, including Angelina Jolie’s searing Cambodia drama “First They Killed My Father,” the Winston Churchill biopic “Darkest Hour,” with Gary Oldman; and the documentary “The Final Year,” about the last year of Barack Obama’s administration.

Cameron Bailey, artistic director of the festival, said Trump’s presidency “was not a factor in the films we selected,” though he expects it to color the reception of many.

“Some of them will be received with the current political climate in mind,” said Bailey. “One of the things I think you learn from films like (the Watergate drama) ‘Mark Felt’ and (the Ted Kennedy drama) ‘Chappaquiddick’ and others that we have here is that the process of politics is not a pretty one. It involves a lot of conflicted motives, shall we say.”

And who better to make sense of the current political landscape than Armando Iannucci (“Veep,” “The Thick of It”), the master of rapid-fire political farce. In his second feature film, “The Death of Stalin,” he travels back to 1950s Russia only to find an expectedly timely tale of the madcap machinations of political power.

“It is bizarre, isn’t it? When I started showing it to people in January and February earlier this year, people said it resonated with Trump and Putin and fake news,” said Iannucci. “It is about autocracy. It is about what happens when democracy falls apart and one person decides everything. I’m kind of glad it does resonate now. But am I pleased?” (VOA)

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Video- USA Gears Up For Its Midterm Elections

Trump and Obama may never appear as opposing candidates on a ballot together, but they are facing off in a closely watched proxy battle in this year’s midterm campaign.

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MIdterm Elections
Former U.S. President Barack Obama speaks at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign in Urbana, Illinois. VOA

For former U.S. president Barack Obama, it must seem like old times. Obama has started to hit the campaign trail on behalf of Democrats ahead of the November midterm elections, setting up what amounts to a proxy battle with the man who succeeded him, President Donald Trump.

Trump already has been a fixture on the campaign trail on behalf of Republicans, convinced that aggressive efforts in Republican-leaning states will protect Republican majorities in both the Senate and the House of Representatives.

Obama’s initial foray into the 2018 congressional campaign came at the University of Illinois where he urged young Democrats to keep up the fight for social and economic justice.

“Each time we have gotten closer to those ideals, somebody somewhere has pushed back,” Obama said. “It did not start with Donald Trump. He is a symptom, not the cause. He is just capitalizing on resentment that politicians have been fanning for years.”

Get out the vote

Obama also campaigned in California on behalf of several Democratic House candidates, where he urged activists to turn out and vote in November.

“When we are not participating, when we are not paying attention, when we are not stepping up, other voices fill the void,” Obama told a Democratic gathering in Anaheim. “But the good news in two months, we have a chance to restore some sanity in our politics.”

Obama now finds himself competing against the man who succeeded him, President Trump, and who has vowed to undo much of what Obama did during his presidency.

Midterm Elections
Former U.S. President Barack Obama speaks at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign in Urbana, Illinois. VOA

Touting the economy

For his part, Trump has been eager to get out on the campaign trail and has promised a vigorous effort to energize Republican voters to keep their congressional majorities in November.

“This election is about jobs. It is safety and it is jobs,” Trump said at a recent Republican rally in Billings, Montana. “Thanks to Republican leadership, our economy is booming like never before in our history. Think of it, in our history. Nobody knew this was going to happen.”

Trump also is stoking fear among his Republican supporters that a Democratic takeover of the House of Representatives in November could lead to his impeachment.

“We will worry about that if it ever happens,” he told the crowd in Billings. “But if it does happen, it is your fault because you did not go out to vote. OK? You didn’t go out to vote.”

Midterm Elections
Supporters hold signs as President Donald Trump speaks during a rally Aug. 21, 2018, in Charleston, W.Va. VOA

Referendum on Trump

Midterm elections are historically unkind to sitting presidents. But unlike many of his predecessors, Trump has embraced the notion that the November congressional vote will be a referendum on his presidency.

Political analysts said that strategy carries both risk and reward.

“The enthusiasm on both sides of the aisle is really related to the president,” said George Washington University political scientist Lara Brown. “I think the last numbers I saw were that more than 40 percent of people who said that they would be very likely to vote were going to be either voting for the president or against the president in this midterm.”

Trump and Obama already have jousted over who should get credit for the strong U.S. economy. At his rallies, Trump touts economic growth and job creation numbers since he took over the presidency, arguing that the national economy is “booming like never before.”

Obama has offered some pushback on the campaign trail.

Midterm Elections
President Donald Trump speaks at a fundraiser in Fargo, N.D. VOA

“Let’s just remember when this recovery started,” Obama said in his Illinois speech, highlighting job growth during his White House years as part of the recovery from the 2008 recession.

Head-to-head battle

Like Trump, Obama also has proved to be a lightning rod for voters. The 44th president was effective in two presidential campaigns at turning out Democrats but was a drag on the party in his two midterm elections, spurring Republicans to turn out against him.

During this year’s midterm, Obama is likely to focus on mobilizing women, younger activists and nonwhite voters, key parts of the Democratic coalition that helped him win the White House in 2008 and 2012.

Also Read: Trump Needs Obama For Dealing With North Korea, Said Jon Wolfsthal

“That enthusiasm is there throughout the Democratic Party and across demographic groups,” said Brookings Institution scholar John Hudak. “And for the first time many voters are going to see options on their ballot that look and sound and talk about issues in different ways, and that is always something that is appealing to a voter base.”

Trump and Obama may never appear as opposing candidates on a ballot together, but they are facing off in a closely watched proxy battle in this year’s midterm campaign where party control of Congress is at stake. (VOA)