With the announcement of a surprise People’s Choice Award Winner that precious few predicted, the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival came to a close with less fanfare than previous years. The general consensus was that the festival lacked the slam dunk hits that Oscar dreams are made of. But on deeper reflection, there was much to appreciate from this year’s slate of films.
Indeed, TIFF 2017 captivated audiences through a diverse selection of insightful human interest stories. The filmmakers opened our eyes to different points of view and shined a spotlight on some of the problems facing our world. One of the recurring themes was the harmful effects of intolerance, whether in the form of the violent racism in “In the Fade“, or prejudice towards LGBT individuals in “A Fantastic Woman” and “Disobedience“. Likewise, the lives of those struggling with poverty were portrayed with keen empathy in “The Florida Project“, the latest film from Sean Baker. Its delightful young star Brooklynn Prince is definitely one to watch, as her infectious energy (both on and off screen) will surely keep the film on people’s minds throughout the long awards season.
On a lighter note, a pair of atypical biopics provided great counter-programming to the usual “serious” festival fare. Namely, the irreverent hilarity of “I, Tonya” was the biggest surprise of TIFF, nabbing a distribution deal and major Oscar buzz in the process. With its sympathetic portrayal of an infamous individual, it would make a great double feature with the other standout comedy of the festival – James Franco’s “The Disaster Artist“. Unsurprisingly, “I, Tonya” and “The Disaster Artist” were both runners-up for the overall People’s Choice and Midnight Madness People’s Choice awards respectively.
As always, TIFF also acted as a meeting place for the world’s creative minds. Notable foreign language films included Ruben Ostlund’s brilliant Palme d’Or winner “The Square“, Mike van Diem’s quirky “Tulipani: Love, Honour and Bicycle” and the touching “Sheikh Jackson“, which closed the Special Presentations programme. All three of these films explored the need for empathy between persons of different socioeconomic backgrounds, nationalities and cultural beliefs.
Away from the limelight of movie premieres, this push for the inclusion of diverse voices in cinema was prevalent throughout the festival’s industry programming. Highlights of the Industry Conference included a wide-ranging panel discussion hosted by the African American Film Critics Association (AAFCA) and a pitch contest for Caribbean films, presented in collaboration with the concurrent CaribbeanTales International Film Festival. Both events further confirmed that the traditional “white male” focus in cinema has deprived audiences of a plethora of fresh ideas which already exist and require nurturing from script to screen.
And so the future looks bright, both for the upcoming fall movie season and the art of cinema as a whole. It will take some time, but I am optimistic that film culture will see a resurgence when our weekly movie releases look closer to the model set by the TIFF 2017 slate (1/3 women-directed and 83 countries represented). On a personal note, I’d like to thank Clayton Davis for facilitating my third trip to TIFF, an opportunity that is always the highlight of my year. And cheers to the filmmakers, film lovers and friends old and new who made it such a wonderful experience.
To wrap up my coverage, here are my festival highlights below:
TIFF TOP TEN
1. Call Me by Your Name
2. The Square
3. In the Fade
4. I, Tonya
5. The Florida Project
6. The Disaster Artist
8. Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami
9. Sheikh Jackson
10. Tulipani: Love, Honour and a Bicycle
BEST OF TIFF
Best Film: “Call Me by Your Name”
Best Director: Ruben Östlund, “The Square”
Best Performance: Armie Hammer & Timothée Chalamet, “Call Me by Your Name”
Best Screenplay: Fatih Akin, “In the Fade