David Byrne’s American Utopia to open TIFF 2020

The concert film directed by Spike Lee will have its world premiere on Sept. 10 at the festival, which plans to run with a hybrid model format of virtual and physical screenings.
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David Byrne’s American Utopia, a concert film directed by Spike Lee and set to air on HBO and Crave this fall, will open the 45th Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) on Sept. 10.

The film depicts Byrne’s Broadway concert, which ran at the Hudson Theatre from October 2019 to February 2020. The former Talking Heads lead vocalist and guitarist performed songs from his 2018 solo album and raised social and political issues, including police violence against Black Americans.

“Spike Lee has somehow always been exactly of his moment and ahead of his time,” said Cameron Bailey, TIFF artistic director and co-head, in a statement. “With David Byrne’s American Utopia, he brings Byrne’s classic songs and joyous stagecraft to the screen just when we need it. Spike’s latest joint is a call to connect with one another, to protest injustice, and, above all, to celebrate life.”

David Byrne’s American Utopia is produced by Lee and Byrne under their respective banners Forty Acres and a Mule Filmworks and Todomundo. Participant, River Road Entertainment and Warner Music Entertainment executive produced and financed the film, with Participant as lead. RadicalMedia is also an executive producer.

Jeff Skoll, David Linde and Diane Weyermann of Participant are executive producers alongside Warner Music Group’s Len Blavatnik, David Bither, Charlie Cohen and Kurt Deutsch; River Road’s Bill Pohlad and Christa Zofcin Workman; and RadicalMedia’s Jon Kamen, Dave Sirulnick and Meredith Bennett. Kristin Caskey, Mike Isaacson and Patrick Catullohe, the lead producers of the Broadway concert, also executive produce.

TIFF announced in June that it will be moving forward with a hybrid festival format, with in-person screenings combined with virtual premieres, red carpets, Q&As and industry panels. The festival will run with a shortened lineup of 50 features and five short film programs. It will continue with the Tribute Awards that were introduced last year, with Kate Winslet already announced as this year’s recipient of the TIFF Tribute Actor Award, which will be handed out virtually. TIFF has also revealed an ambassador program, with 50 filmmakers and actors set to help promote this year’s festival.

The festival’s ability to rollout physical screenings will be “contingent on the Province’s reopening framework to ensure that Festival venues and workplace practices meet and exceed public health guidelines.”

TIFF has been hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, which temporarily closed the TIFF Bell Lightbox theatre in March and interrupted its year-long programming. As a result the festival let go 31 full-time staff members to reduce its workforce by 17%, and anticipates it will see a 50% decrease in revenue from 2019.

This year’s TIFF will run from Sept. 10 to 19, 2020.

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