DISPATCHES FROM TIFF
The last seven days have been a whirlwind for anyone in the entertainment industry, with the Venice Film Festival, Telluride Film Festival, and Primetime Emmy Awards all happening near simultaneously. On top of it all, the Toronto International Film Festival is staging a grand return after going virtual during the pandemic and hosting a scaled-back in-person event last year. It’s beginning to feel, well, like normal again.
If Venice and Telluride start Hollywood’s awards season conversation, TIFF puts the chatter into high gear. For Netflix, the buzz got loud fast with the opening night premiere of Sally El Hosaini’s deeply moving drama, The Swimmers. Based on the inspiring true story of refugee sisters Yusra and Sara Mardini who fled war-torn Syria for Europe — and a chance to compete in the 2016 Rio Olympics — as teenagers. Newcomers (and real-life sisters) Manal and Nathalie Issa were on hand for the packed screening at Roy Thomson Hall, alongside co-star Matthias Schweighöfer (Army of Thieves) and the Mardini sisters themselves, and received an enthusiastic four-minute standing ovation at the conclusion of the film.
Enthusiastic might be an understatement when describing the rapturous reception that greeted the star-studded cast of Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery, writer-director Rian Johnson’s ingenious follow-up to his 2019 Oscar-nominated hit, which originally premiered at TIFF. Daniel Craig — who reprises his starring role as detective Benoit Blanc, Edward Norton, Janelle Monáe, Kathryn Hahn, Leslie Odom Jr., Jessica Henwick, and Kate Hudson all walked the red carpet looking stunning. Johnson, meanwhile, giddily ran the carpet, high-fiving the fans who thronged the streets outside the Princess of Wales Theatre. “I feel like a kid — it’s Christmas morning,” Johnson had told me earlier in the day when we recorded an interview for an upcoming episode of my Skip Intro podcast. Look for that in the coming weeks, as well as a conversation with Norton, who delivers a masterful performance (naturally).
After the Glass Onion screening, Johnson and his cast reflected on the experience of making the film during an extended Q&A. When asked about her favorite scenes, Monáe noted that her most treasured moments happened off camera, when the cast would spend their downtime during weekends in Greece, where the movie was shot, playing murder mystery games and generally bonding. There’s no question all that togetherness translated to major chemistry on screen — the second film in the franchise practically crackles with energy as the story unfolds. Johnson also took a moment to pay tribute to his grandfather, who was on hand in the audience, as the person who initially sparked his interest in filmmaking and helped foster his love of cinema from an early age.
On a personal note, my TIFF highlights had to be the time I was lucky enough to spend with the extraordinary talents on hand recording interviews for Skip Intro. In addition to Johnson and Norton, I sat down with mogul Tyler Perry, whose Jim Crow-era drama A Jazzman’s Blues screened as part of the festival, featuring noteworthy performances from stars Joshua Boone and Solea Pfeiffer. The stars of the true crime drama The Good Nurse, Academy Award winners Jessica Chastain and Eddie Redmayne, stopped by the podcast studio to reflect on their experiences going from longtime friends to scene partners in the film from director Tobias Lindholm (whose filmmaking credits include A War and the screenplay for the Oscar-winning drama Another Round). And then there was the visit from Hillary Rodham Clinton and daughter Chelsea Clinton, which was remarkable. Through their production company HiddenLight, the mother-daughter duo executive-produced In Her Hands, the gripping documentary that follows Zarifa Ghafari, the youngest female mayor in Afghanistan history, during the years leading up to the withdrawal of Western forces and the resurgence of the Taliban.
TIFF also saw the premiere of German filmmaker Edward Berger’s riveting adaptation of Erich Maria Remarque’s World War I novel, All Quiet on the Western Front, which is now Germany’s official submission for the Oscars. Finally, director Henry Selick presented his latest stop-motion masterpiece, Wendell & Wild — a dark adventure produced by and starring Jordan Peele that sees two scheming demons face their arch-enemy with the help of young orphan Kat (Lyric Ross). Although the two projects, both widely embraced by critics, couldn’t be more different, both represented some of the best and most noteworthy filmmaking of the year.
And you’ll find both soon on Netflix.