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Around the Festivals

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Around the Festivals, image,
Promotional still for David Byrne’s American Utopia courtesy of HBO.

Around the Festivals
by Ralph Lucas – Publisher

(September 10, 2020 – Toronto, ON) When it comes to film festivals at this time of year the big news, naturally, belongs to the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), which gets underway tonight. In some ways it might be the smallest festival since those early days when it was known as The Festival of Festivals, yet in other ways it might be the largest TIFF ever. Smallest in that the big stars are missing, there are far fewer on-screen showings and those in-cinema films will be subject to social distancing in the seating arrangements. However, by going digital, more people than ever may get to see festival films, albeit on their home screens.

The 45th edition opens with David Byrne’s American Utopia (pictured above), directed by Spike Lee. It’s a filmed version of Byrne’s Broadway show with the former Talking Heads frontman singing his most popular songs backed by 11 musicians from around the world. Making history, this opening Gala screening will occur with both in-cinema and drive-in screenings combined. TIFF runs until September 19. Northernstars took at look at some of the Canadian films at TIFF here and here.

Speaking of reaching a larger audience through digital distribution, the OIAF (Ottawa International Animation Festival) opens September 23 and goes online worldwide, with single tickets or passes available. While Canada has produced some terrific feature animated movies, you mention animation in this country and people usually think of the National Film Board and their long award-winning record of producing animated shorts. There are two world premieres in official competition this year. The first Thanadoula, is an animated documentary from Toronto-based director Robin McKenna. We have written about Thanadoula before, but the short synopsis is: Layering real-life details with an otherworldly magic, Thanadoula recounts the story of an end-of-life doula brought to her calling through the loss of her beloved sister. It runs a little more than six and a half minutes.

Also screening in competition is the international co-production HIDE by UK-born, Hungary-based creator Daniel Gray whose 2006 short t.o.m. (with Tom Brown) was named Best Graduation Animation at OIAF. HIDE runs 11 minutes and it’s about two brothers who entertain themselves playing hide and seek. As one counts, the other hides in a small cabinet. Seconds pass… then minutes… years…and decades.

Other NFB productions and coproductions at OIAF include Quebec animator Jean-François Lévesque’s I, Barnabé (NFB with the participation of ARTE France), the latest NFB work from the creator of The Necktie (2008). 4 North A is the first collaboration between Newfoundland native Jordan Canning and Saskatoon-born Howie Shia, now both based in Toronto. And then there’s Altötting (Studio Film Bilder/NFB/Ciclope Filmes) by German animator Andreas Hykade, featuring design by Portugal’s Regina Pessoa.

There is far more from the NFB including some VR productions, as well as productions from around the world at OIAF. The festival runs from September 23 to October 4. There is a link to their website on our September Film Festivals page.

The Toronto Palestine Film Festival (TPFF) also starts September 23. We don’t pay a lot of attention to it as our focus is strictly on Canadian films and filmmakers but there is a link on our September Film Festivals page.



Also on Wednesday, September 23 Canada’s biggest Black Film Festival, the Montreal International Black Film Festival (MIBFF) kicks off at 7PM with Sergio Navarretta’s The Cuban starring Louis Gossett Jr. The festival ramps up the next day when a record 120 films from 30 countries will be available online and across Canada and around the World. Films will highlight topics such as the Environment, Immigration, Music, Human Rights, Women’s Rights, Systemic Racism, LGBTQ identity and Black Lives Matter. The MIBFF wraps on October 4 and a link to their website can be found on our September Film Festivals page.


There’s also a link to the Calgary International Film Festival (CIFF) where, for the first time, the full lineup of selected films will be available for streaming to audiences in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. The opening film on September 24 is Falling, a Canada-United Kingdom-Denmark coproduction that marks the feature directorial debut of Viggo Mortensen.

John Ware Reclaimed, movie, image,
Image from John Ware Reclaimed courtesy of the National Film Board.
The NFB is also well represented here with the world premiere of a feature documentary on a vital piece of Alberta’s history titled John Ware Reclaimed, which follows acclaimed Calgary-born filmmaker, author and playwright Cheryl Foggo on her quest to re-examine the mythology of Ware, the Black cowboy who settled in Alberta before the turn of the 20th century. Her research uncovers who this iconic figure might have been, and what his legacy means in terms of anti-Black racism, both past and present. Three award-winning NFB features are in the festival’s DGC Canadian Documentary Competition: Wintopia by Mira Burt-Wintonick (EyeSteelFilm/NFB), Stateless (Hispaniola Productions/NFB) by Michèle Stephenson and The Forbidden Reel (Loaded Pictures/NFB) by Ariel Nasr.

It’s a bit of a look ahead but we’ve had updates from two Toronto-based October festivals. The ReelWorld Film Festival runs October 14-19. This year, the festival includes 36 features, shorts, and webseries created by Canadian filmmakers identifying as Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour. The entire festival will be available online and passes go on sale today.

On October 20 the 21st imagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival will begin its five day run. This year they’re trying something uniquely different. The opening gala film isn’t a single film but a shorts program featuring a gathering of international shorts created by artists from seven different nations: Êmîcêtôsêt: Many Bloodlines by Theola Ross (Cree); Between Two Lines by Jack Steele (Wiradjuri); Te Wao Nui by Ngariki Ngatae (Māori); Nuxalk Radio by Banchi Hanuse (Nuxalk); Audrey’s Story by Michelle Derosier (Anishinaabe); Kapaemahu by Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu (Kanaka Maoli); and The Fourfold by Alisi Telengut (Mongolian, Telengut). The Closing Night Gala will be the Canadian premiere of Compañía by Bolivian director Miguel Hilari, which follows the daily rhythms of a small mountain community. Click here for information about festival passes.

Click here for a list of October 2020 film festivals.

As we have over the past many years, this is our first look at the 2020 Film Festival Season. There will be more to report on as the weeks unfold.

Northernstars logo imageRalph Lucas is the founder and publisher of Northernstars.ca. He began writing about film and reviewing movies while in radio in Montreal in the mid-1970s.