TIFF 2021 Gala

The Toronto International Film Festival just announced the Gala & Special Presentation programs, including Opening & Closing Night films, for 2021. The list includes the world premiere of the musical Dear Evan Hansen; a movie where Benedict Cumberbatch loves cats; Jessica Chastain undergoing a massive transformation for The Eyes of Tammy Faye; and, uh…Clifford the Big Red Dog. The lineup comes on the heels of the news that Canada will begin allowing vaccinated Americans to cross the border starting on August 9. Visitors from the rest of the world will be eligible to enter Canada starting September 7, “provided that Canada’s Covid-19 epidemiology remains favorable.”

It’s almost time for TIFF, my personal favorite film festival. Today, TIFF unveiled the films part of its Gala and Special Presentation programs, including Opening and Closing Night films. The opening night movie will be the musical Dear Evan Hansen, featuring Ben Platt pretending to be a teenager.

“There was no question that Dear Evan Hansen was the ideal film to launch the Festival this year,” said Cameron Bailey, Artistic Director and Co-Head, TIFF. “This film is ultimately about healing, forgiveness, and reaffirms how connected and essential we all are to one another. We couldn’t think of a more important idea to celebrate this year as we come together once again to share the power and joy of cinema in theaters together.”

“As TIFF resumed this year in the wake of a pandemic that marked and changed all of our lives, we felt it was important to open this year’s Festival with a film that connects to our shared humanity and that reminds us how deeply we need one another, need to be seen by one another, especially in times of loneliness and despair,” added Joana Vicente, Executive Director and Co-Head, TIFF.

The Closing Night Gala of TIFF 2021 will be One Second, the newest from the director of Raise the Red Lantern and Hero, Zhang Yimou. The film “tells the story of a traveling film projectionist and an escaped prisoner connected through cinema” and is described as “a love letter to movies and a reminder of how they can unite people, regardless of our differences.”

“Every September we invite the whole film world to Toronto, one of the most diverse, movie-mad cities in the world,” said Cameron Bailey. “And to have Zhang Yimou’s film here, now, is a true joy.” He also added: “Some of the year’s biggest films will screen at TIFF this year. We’re thrilled to announce these films as Galas and Special Presentations. Our programming team has been hard at work for months searching for the most compelling stories, acclaimed filmmakers, and top onscreen talent that comprise two of TIFF’s highest-profile sections.”

There will be more announcements to come – I’m kind of shocked Guillermo del Toro’s Nightmare Alley isn’t on this list, and can only assume it’ll be added later. Also worth noting that some of the titles on this list, including One Night in Soho and Belfast, have already been announced (read more about that here). The full schedule will be released on August 24.

Last year’s fest happened in the midst of the pandemic, and to accommodate these trying times, TIFF allowed for a virtual component so that folks could cover the films from the safety of their own homes. Things might be a bit different this year – although we still don’t know the full details. There’s a chance that TIFF will still have some sort of virtual element this year, but there’s also an even better chance that the festival will attempt to get back into the full swing of an in-person event. Why? Because Canada just announced that they were finally opening up their borders to outsiders.

Vaccinated Americans can start entering Canada on August 9, and folks from outside the U.S. can begin to enter on September 7. The 46th Toronto International Film Festival runs September 9–18, 2021.

TIFF 2021 Gala and Special Presentations

GALA PRESENTATIONS 2021 

Belfast Kenneth| Branagh | United Kingdom
World Premiere

  • Judi Dench, Ciarán Hinds, and Jamie Dornan star in Kenneth Branagh’s coming-of-age tale set amid the tumult of late-1960s Northern Ireland.

Clifford the Big Red Dog| Walt Becker | USA/United Kingdom/Canada
World Premiere

  • Norman Bridwell’s beloved illustrated series comes to life in this magical live-action tale starring Jack Whitehall, John Cleese, and Tony Hale.

Dear Evan Hansen | Stephen Chbosky | USA
World Premiere | Opening Night Film

  • Julianne Moore and Ben Platt star in this adaptation of Steven Levenson’s Tony Award-winning musical about adolescence, grief, and transcendence.

The Electrical Life of Louis Wain| Will Sharpe | United Kingdom
Canadian Premiere

  • An eccentric artist (Benedict Cumberbatch) introduces Victorian London to the delights of cats, in Will Sharpe’s enlightening biopic.

The Eyes of Tammy Faye | Michael Showalter | USA
World Premiere

  • Jessica Chastain stars as flamboyant televangelist Tammy Faye Bakker in this humanizing portrait of the rise and fall of the Bakker network empire.

Jagged | Alison Klayman | USA
World Premiere

  • Alanis Morissette reflects on her 1990s rise to rock stardom, in this new documentary from Alison Klayman (Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry).

Last Night in Soho | Edgar Wright | United Kingdom
North American Premiere

  • Edgar Wright wickedly reflects ’60s Swinging London in this kaleidoscopic psycho-thriller about two young artists entwined across time.

The Mad Women’s Ball (Le Bal des folles) | Mélanie Laurent | France
World Premiere

  • The latest from writer-director-actor Mélanie Laurent is a chilling tale of spectral visions and institutional abuse set in 19th-century France.

Night Raiders | Danis Goulet | Canada/New Zealand
North American Premiere

  • Danis Goulet’s singular thriller draws on Canada’s ugly colonial legacy for a propulsive piece of genre cinema set in a dystopian postwar future.

One Second | Zhang Yimou | China
North American Premiere | Closing Night Film

  • Master director Zhang Yimou returns with his “love letter to cinema” in which a man escapes a labour camp for a glimpse of his beloved daughter.

The Survivor | Barry Levinson | USA/Canada/Hungary
World Premiere

  • Barry Levinson’s biographical drama stars Ben Foster as boxer Harry Haft, who looks to carry on after fighting to survive in WWII concentration camps.

SPECIAL PRESENTATIONS 2021

Ali & Ava | Clio Barnard | United Kingdom
North American Premiere

  • The latest from acclaimed British writer-director Clio Barnard (The Selfish Giant) is a tumultuous, fiercely affecting working-class love story.

All My Puny Sorrows | Michael McGowan | Canada
World Premiere

  • Michael McGowan’s touching adaptation of Miriam Toews’ beloved novel about two sisters boasts a fine cast led by Alison Pill and Sarah Gadon.

Benediction | Terence Davies | United Kingdom
World Premiere

  • English auteur Terence Davies’ latest is an equally somber and sumptuous portrait of 20th-century English poet and soldier Siegfried Sassoon.

Bergman Island | Mia Hansen-Løve | France
International Premiere

  • A melancholic meditation on love and creativity, French auteur Mia Hansen-Løve’s latest stars Vicky Krieps and Tim Roth as a filmmaking couple who go to the island of Fårö, where Ingmar Bergman spent the end of his life.

Charlotte | Eric Warin, Tahir Rana | Canada/France/Belgium
World Premiere

  • The remarkable true story of Charlotte Salomon, a German Jewish artist defying incredible odds to create a masterpiece during World War II.

Dionne Warwick: Don’t Make Me Over | Dave Wooley, David Heilbroner | USA
World Premiere

  • This inspiring documentary portrait chronicles the iconic singer’s fascinating six-decade career in both music and Black and LGBTQ activism.

Drive My Car | Ryusuke Hamaguchi | Japan
North American Premiere

  • Adapted from Haruki Murakami’s short story, Yusuke Hamaguchi’s film follows two lonely people who find the courage to face the past.

Encounter | Michael Pearce | United Kingdom/USA
International Premiere

  • A decorated Marine (Riz Ahmed) goes on a rescue mission to save his two young sons from an inhuman threat, in the latest from director Michael Pearce.

The Guilty | Antoine Fuqua | USA
World Premiere

  • Jake Gyllenhaal stars in Antoine Fuqua’s thriller set over the course of a single morning in a 911 dispatch centre.

I’m Your Man | Maria Schrader | Germany
North American Premiere

  • Maria Schrader’s unlikely sci-fi rom-com explores human relationships through the inquisitive eyes of a cyborg. Starring Dan Stevens and Maren Eggert.

Inexorable | Fabrice du Welz | Belgium/France
International Premiere

  • The latest from Fabrice du Welz (Alleluia) follows a bestselling novelist who moves into an eerie old mansion in search of inspiration.

Lakewood | Phillip Noyce | Canada
World Premiere

  • Naomi Watts stars in Phillip Noyce’s nerve-rattling thriller about a mother struggling to rescue her son from a school shooter.

The Middle Man | Bent Hamer | Norway/Canada/Germany/Denmark
World Premiere

  • In a town plagued by disaster, one man holds the job of breaking the worst news to its citizens, in director Bent Hamer’s latest oddball comedy.

Official Competition (Competencia Oficial) | Mariano Cohn, Gastón Duprat | Spain/Argentina
North American Premiere

  • Penélope Cruz, Antonio Banderas, and Oscar Martínez star in Mariano Cohn and Gastón Duprat’s ingenious, icy behind-the-scenes satire of moviemaking.

Paris, 13th District (Les Olympiades) | Jacques Audiard | France
North American Premiere

  • This vibrant tale of love and friendship pairs director Jacques Audiard (Rust and Bone) and co-writer Céline Sciamma (Portrait of a Lady on Fire).

Petite Maman | Céline Sciamma | France
Canadian Premiere

  • Following a girl’s journey to her mother’s childhood home, French auteur Céline Sciamma’s latest is a tender tale of intergenerational connection.

The Starling | Theodore Melfi | USA
World Premiere

  • Melissa McCarthy, Chris O’Dowd and Kevin Kline star in Theodore Melfi’s bittersweet tale of a couple working their way toward the other side of grief.

The Story of My Wife | Ildikó Enyedi | Hungary/Germany/Italy/France
North American Premiere

  • A cursed sea captain bets an associate that he will marry the first woman who enters the café. In walks Lizzy (Léa Seydoux), and the rest is history.

Three Floors (Tre Piani) | Nanni Moretti | Italy/France
North American Premiere

  • The latest from Palme d’Or winner Nanni Moretti is a turbulent network narrative involving the residents of a Rome apartment complex.

Violet | Justine Bateman | USA
International Premiere

  • Olivia Munn stars in writer-director Justine Bateman’s feature debut, a formally daring, psychologically incisive portrait of a woman at a crossroads.

The Worst Person In The World (Verdens Verste Menneske) | Joachim Trier | Norway/France/Sweden/Denmark
North American Premiere

  • The finale in Joachim Trier’s “Oslo Trilogy” follows a 30-year-old woman in the midst of an existential crisis as she navigates between career and romantic choices, and her own refusal to be defined — even by herself.
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