By Helen Barlow
In light of the violent gun attack in the Greektown neighbourhood of their city the Toronto Film Festival’s CEO Piers Handling and artistic director Cameron Bailey announced this year’s first films today with little fanfare.
Continually promising to reduce the huge number of entries in the TIFF programme, which included 255 features in 2017, they unveiled the cream of the 2018 crop, the Galas and Special Presentations that are vying for Oscar glory next year.
While the Venice Festival opener First Man, Damien Chazelle’s follow up to La La Land starring Ryan Gosling as Neil Armstrong, will go on to screen in Toronto, as will A Star is Born, the directing debut of Bradley Cooper where he co-stars with Lady Gaga, it’s interesting to focus on the films that will world premiere at TIFF.
The only Irish world premiere so far is Papi Chulo, a black comedy directed by John Butler whose previous two features, The Stag and Handsome Devil, also premiered in Toronto. Matt Bomer (Magic Mike, The Last Tycoon) plays a lonely TV weatherman who strikes up an unusual friendship with a middle-aged Latino migrant worker. Rob Walpole and Rebecca O’Flanagan of Treasure Entertainment produced the film, which was financed by the Irish Film Board, Head Gear Films, RTE and Windmill Lane.
British director Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave had also world premiered in Toronto in 2013 before taking out the coveted Audience Award, seen as a precursor to the best picture Oscar, which it indeed did win—as did Martin McDonagh’s Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri this year.
In 2014 Michael Fassbender was also nominated for best actor in a supporting role for 12 Years A Slave and hopefully Colin Farrell can do likewise this year with the Hunger director’s new UK/US production, Widows, a remake of the Lynda La Plante 80s TV series.
Co-written by McQueen and Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl, Sharp Objects) the Chicago-set film follows four women brought together by the debt resulting from their dead husbands; failed heist and they step in to finish the job. Viola Davis stars as Veronica Rawlins and Liam Neeson plays her husband. Farrell plays the politician son of power broker Robert Duvall who gets mixed up in the widows’ plans.
Also world premiering is Trevor Nunn’s timely UK production Red Joan starring Judi Dench as Joan Stanley, who manages to transfer nuclear bomb secrets to the Soviet Union and remains undetected for half a century. Sophie Cookson (Kingsman: The Secret Service) plays the younger Joan in the film, which is adapted from Jennie Rooney’s 2014 novel about the real-life Melita Norwood, a woman unmasked at age 87 as the KGB’s longest-serving British spy.
As with her mixed-race heroine in 2013’s Belle, set in 18th Century England, British writer-director Amma Assante will present Where Hands Touch, the story of a mixed-race teen in Nazi Germany. Leyna (Amandla Stenberg) the daughter of a white German mother and a black father, is asking for trouble when she falls in love with Lutz (George MacKay), the son of a prominent SS officer and a member of the Hitler Youth.
Barry Jenkins, the director of 2017 Oscar winner Midnight, presents his follow-up If Beale Street Could Talk based on a novel by James Baldwin. Michael Winterbottom’s India- set The Wedding Guest, starring Dev Patel, is set for a world premiere and Patel does double duty also starring with Armie Hammer in the world premiere of the Australian thriller Hotel Mumbai.