TIFF CEO previews conversation-sparking festival lineup

TIFF '22: The 47th edition has unveiled a raft of world premieres among its gala and special presentations, including Canada/U.S. copro Alice, Darling and Uninterrupted Canada documentary Black Ice.

Cameron Bailey is ready to get people talking at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF).

The annual Canadian event, which runs Sept. 8 to 18, has lifted the lid on the gala and special presentations of its 47th edition on Thursday (July 28), with a raft of world premieres, including Mary Nighy’s Canada/U.S. copro Alice, Darling and Hubert Davis’s Uninterrupted Canada documentary Black Ice (pictured). This year also marks the first time Bailey will helm the festival solo as CEO.

“I’ll let others deal with the awards chances of films and people in them – that’s really not my area of expertise – but what I love about our festival is that the films here launch conversations,” he tells Playback Daily.

Among the films Bailey expects will get audiences talking are their recently announced opening film The Swimmers, directed by Sally El Hosaini and distributed by Netflix, which tells the true story of two sisters who made their way to the 2016 Olympics in Rio after fleeing Syria, and Sidney, a documentary on the legendary late actor Sidney Poitier, directed by Reginald Hudlin and produced by Oprah Winfrey. The latter film will have its world premiere as a gala presentation.

Organizers are also anticipating a return of Toronto crowds, with Bailey confirming that the four-day Festival Street will be back for the first time since 2019, following months of talks with the City of Toronto. The festival will also see a return of A-list red carpets.

Bailey has already set a high bar for his first festival since taking the reins as CEO. Among the highest profile titles revealed so far is Steven Spielberg’s The Fabelmans, which marks the iconic director’s first appearance at TIFF.

Bailey says the festival’s strong relationship with distributor Universal Pictures helped bring the coming-of-age and semi-autobiographical drama to Toronto. “[The Fabelmans is] a great glimpse into how [Spielberg] became the artist that he did,” says Bailey. “I have a great admiration for him as a filmmaker generally, but if I have to be honest, I think this is one of the very best things I’ve seen from him.”

Bailey says his transition from co-head and artistic director to CEO, following the departure of former co-head and executive director Joana Vicente, has been well-timed with the festival’s return to a fully in-person event. He’s been able oversee the expansion of the team – “the dream team,” as he calls them – which includes the appointment of Anita Lee as chief programming office and Beth Janson as COO, as well as the festival’s return to a robust 200 feature film lineup after slimmer rosters during the virtual pandemic instalments.

“We have people who’ve got deep experience in the Canadian film industry and deep relationships with artists and industry professionals,” says Bailey.

The Canadian titles revealed so far are only a small taste of what is to come, according to the TIFF head, but he says the homegrown lineup “reflects where Canadian culture is now and how that culture is evolving,” adding that “it’s a much more diverse mix of films than you would’ve seen 10 or 20 years ago.”

Alice, Darling is produced by Toronto’s Elevation Pictures and Babe Nation Films. The psychological thriller stars Anna Kendrick, who serves as an executive producer alongside Sam Tipper-Hale. Producers include Babe Nation’s Katie Bird Nolan and Lindsay Tapscott, and Elevation’s Christina Piovesan and Noah Segal.

Lionsgate handles worldwide distribution for Alice, Darling, except for Canada, which will be handled by Elevation.

Black Ice is a feature-length documentary produced by Uninterrupted Canada in partnership with Bell Media, DreamCrew Entertainment and The SpringHill Company. Elevation will handle theatrical distribution of the film, while it will have its exclusive broadcast premiere on Bell Media sports network TSN. Vinay Virmani produces, with Drake and Adele “Future” Nur serving as executive producers.

Already announced as a world premiere, and now set as a special presentation, is Clement Virgo’s Brother.

Toronto filmmaker Sarah Polley’s Women Talking (Plan B Entertainment, Hear/Say Productions), based on the novel by Miriam Toews, will have its international premiere as a special presentation. The world premiere of the U.S. production, which is produced by and stars Oscar winner Frances McDormand, has not yet been announced, suggesting it may make its bow at the Telluride Film Festival in Colorado.

Other newly announced world premieres set for gala presentations are Peter Farrelly’s The Greatest Beer Run Ever (U.S.); Gabe Polsky’s Butcher’s Crossing (U.S.); Francesca Archibugi’s The Hummingbird (Italy, France); Tyler Perry’s A Jazzman’s Blues (U.S.); Shubham Yogi’s Kacchey Limbu (India); Paul Weitz’s Moving On (U.S.); Catherine Hardwicke’s Prisoner’s Daughter (U.S.); Rodrigo García’s Raymond & Ray (U.S.); Amy Redford’s Roost (U.S.); and Shekhar Kapur’s What’s Love Got to Do With It? (U.K.).

The world premiere special presentations include Richard Eyre’s Allelujah (U.K.); Edward Berger’s All Quiet on the Western Front (Germany); Robert Connolly’s Blueback (Australia); Lila Neugebauer’s Causeway (U.S.); Stephen Williams’ Chevalier (U.S.); J.D. Dillard’s Devotion (U.S.); Diego Lerman’s El Suplente (Argentina, Italy, Mexico, Spain, France); Tobias Lindholm’s The Good Nurge (U.S.); Stephen Frears’ The Lost King (U.K.); Jung Woo-sung’s A Man of Reason (South Korea); Mark Mylod’s The Menu (U.S.); Zachary Wigon’s Sanctuary (U.S.); Cesc Gay’s Stories Not to Be Told (Spain); Hong Sang-soo’s Walk Up (South Korea); and Henry Selick’s Wendell & Wild (U.S.).

When asked about the anticipated level of sales in the fall festival circuit this year, Bailey says it’s hard to predict sales volumes at this stage, especially with the festival back to in-person screenings.

“There’s a particular alchemy that happens during a film festival with how audiences and buyers respond to movies and the particular circumstances of the premiere on a given night: how the audience reacts, who’s in the room, who’s competitive with who else. That’s what tells you what’s going to sell and for how much and how soon,” he says. “What I will say is that the need for films to release, whether you’re releasing them theatrically or on a streaming platform or broadcast windows, that’s still there, that hasn’t changed. In fact, it may have grown.”

For Bailey, he’s just looking forward to seeing audience reactions in real time.

“Sometimes you can overhear conversations or just engage someone, ‘What did you see? What you think of it?’ And suddenly things will just pour out of them,” he says, “Everybody responds to films based on their own personal experience, so each time it’s different, everybody’s got a unique response to movies. That, to me, is one of the most exciting things about doing this work.”