By Jenna Zucker and Divya Rajagopal
TORONTO (Reuters) – After two years of toned-down festivities, the Toronto International Film Festival opens Thursday with full-capacity theaters and more than 200 feature films, aiming to make a mark in Hollywood’s awards race.
Oprah Winfrey, Taylor Swift, Steven Spielberg and Lee Jung-jae are among the stars slated to appear on red carpets. Tickets for screenings, which unlike other major film festivals are open to the general public, sold out in minutes.
Several films will have their world premieres at the 11-day festival, which is known as TIFF and is often a launching pad for Oscar contenders.
“A lot of the movies that you see at TIFF are the movies that will be talked about all through Oscar season and over the many months to come,” said Christian Blauvelt, executive managing editor of IndieWire.
Among them, Viola Davis stars in “The Woman King,” the story of Agojie, the real-life 18th century all-women unit of warriors from the West African kingdom of Dahomey.
“This is the role that she’s (Viola) been looking for her whole career,” Blauvelt said. “It’s such a unique thing. Fictionalized versions of this have appeared in the past, like Black Panther, but this is the real story.”
Spielberg’s semi-autobiographical film “The Fabelmans” also will debut in Toronto, alongside the musical biopic “Weird: The Al Yankovic Story,” featuring Daniel Radcliffe as the musician. Sequel “Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery” starring Daniel Craig also is expected to draw crowds despite Craig’s absence from the premiere.
Swift will appear to talk about her 10-minute music video “All Too Well: A Short Film”, with many fans left high and dry as tickets to her event sold out in minutes. Some are being re-sold for C$3,000 at online sites.
Festival opener “The Swimmers,” directed by Sally El Hosaini, traces the journey of Yusra and Sara Mardani from war-torn Damascus to Germany, and later, to the 2016 Rio Olympics.
TORONTO IS BACK
The festival is taking over Toronto’s downtown core with events sprawling across King Street. Films will be screened across five venues, with the Royal Alexandra Theatre as the newest addition.
After two years of COVID closures, the hospitality industry is ready to welcome people back. The festival held largely online viewings in 2020 at the height of the pandemic and last year offered a mix of online and limited in-person screenings.
“It’s not only the first time that TIFF is back after a two-year hiatus, it’s also the first time in two years that the summer is coming to an end and the hospitality industry is still open,” said Jeffrey Feldman, director of public relations and events at Marbl Group. “We’re a city that’s growing and bustling and we are built to entertain and to welcome the world.”
Restaurants are opening their doors for panels, dinners and parties, with some flying in DJs for special appearances. One main difference from pre-COVID years is the way food will be served, Feldman said. Gone are the days of oyster bars and buffets, as servers and actors maintain precautions.
The festival will have “fan zones” for the public to watch red carpet appearances with a first-come, first-served system.
(Editing by Deepa Babington)