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How a COVID-Era Toronto Film Festival Found a New Purpose – as a Platform for Unheard Voices

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This year’s TIFF wasn’t dominated by awards contenders, but its heart was in smaller films from underrepresented voices who deserve to be heard

What if they threw a fall film festival and it didn’t really have anything to do with Hollywood’s awards season?

The Toronto International Film Festival has been doing something like that over the past week. The splashiest part of its annual festival is usually devoted to Hollywood studios showing off their biggest awards contenders in front of industry and press from around the world, but this year’s COVID-19 edition has stripped out virtually all of the press and industry and most of the Hollywood studio movies.

What did that leave? Well, it actually left TIFF 2020 as a vehicle for a rich collection of smaller films that in many cases showcased the voices of directors from underrepresented groups, and told stories of communities that are often overlooked. In other words, the festival produced exactly what its organizers wanted.

It wasn’t the usual TIFF, or anything like that, but if you adjusted your expectations it was a satisfying collection of films and a way to turn a massive, crowded annual event into a smaller, mostly virtual one that worked on its own terms.

I missed the usual TIFF, and I want it be there to see it return next year — but after seeing more than 30 of the features that were programmed this year, I feel as if I’ve gotten some dispatches from some interesting new voices and from corners of the cinema world that might have been overlooked in the usual lineup of half a dozen gala premieres each night.

And, by the way, it did produce one bona fide Best Picture contender that will be in this year’s awards race for the long haul, Chloe Zhao’s luminous “Nomadland,” starring the essential Frances McDormand. It also delivered an animated film that could be a real contender, Apple’s “Wolfwalkers,” a handful of international films that will likely end up in the Oscar race and more than a dozen strong documentaries, including “MLK/FBI,” “Notturno,” “Enemies of the State,” “The Truffle Hunters” and the moving Chinese film “76 Days,” an astounding chronicle of the early days of the COVID pandemic in Wuhan.

You can also throw in the low-key romance “Ammonite,” with beautiful performances by Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan; the heartbreaking “The Father,” with Anthony Hopkins and Olivia Colman; Regina King’s feature directing debut “One Night in Miami,” with Eli Goree, Aldis Hodge, Leslie Odom Jr. and Kingsley Ben-Adir playing Cassius Clay, Jim Brown, Sam Cooke and Malcolm X; and Kornel Mundcruczo’s “Pieces of a Woman,” a showcase for Venice acting winner Vanessa Kirby.

While that’s a decent start for any awards season, it’s not the overflowing abundance of riches that Toronto normally provides. But the pandemic and the timing forced a different kind of festival.

The media and industry was asked not to come to Toronto, but instead to watch the films in a digital screening room that made a handful of films available each morning, usually for 48 hours. The lineup, which typically consists of more than 200 features, was trimmed to 50 films in the main selection, another 10 in special screenings and an additional 30 in a “TIFF Industry Selects” section for buyers. While some screenings did take place in Toronto, those were for local audiences and were held in drive-ins or socially-distanced theaters.

And with the Academy Awards delayed for a full two months to April 25, 2021, and the eligibility deadline to qualify for the Oscars extended all the way to Feb. 28, few studios felt compelled to showcase their top contenders a full seven months before the ceremony. Netflix, for instance, declined to send any of the movies from its robust slate of awards contenders, although Aaron Sorkin’s “Trial of the Chicago 7” did get a special Q&A panel presentation.

Netflix is also finalizing a big-money deal for the TIFF title that had the stealthiest and most curious premiere, Halle Berry’s directorial debut, “Bruised.” Not only was the MMA-themed film not made available on the press and industry screening site, reviewers were not given access to the film via outside links, the way they were for the handful of other films. The only way for the media to see it was to be in Canada for a festival screening, which wasn’t feasible since the festival told journalists to stay home — so although the film had a gala presentation on Saturday, reviews are conspicuously missing.

(Then again, who needs reviews when you’ve got a Netflix deal in the works?)

With the new approach, the heart of the festival in some ways became the films that often seem to exist in the shadows cast by the major-studio releases. The highlights included smaller indies like Tracey Deer’s “Beans” (the coming-of-age story of an indigenous girl in a time of social turmoil), Ben Sharrock’s “Limbo” (a touching and wry piece about a Syrian refugee held in limbo on a remote Scottish island), Michel Franco’s “New Order” (a brutal and timely drama about class tensions in Mexico), Ricky Staub’s “Concrete Cowboy” (the tale of a community that formed around stables in North Philadelphia) and Charles Officer’s “Akilla’s Escape” (cycles of violence stretching from Jamaica to New York, with a wrenching performance from Saul Williams).

All of those brought to cultures and communities not often represented onscreen, and showcased the kind of voices that festivals like TIFF exist to find and support. If this was a smaller, odder, more frustrating Toronto, it was also an unexpectedly rich one — and one that shows why it makes sense for festivals to keep going in whatever way they can.

The festival will end on Saturday, Sept. 19.

Entertainment

New Movies + Shows to Watch this Weekend: Netflix’s ‘Ratched’ + More

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Ah, another week in the books which means another weekend is waiting just ahead for us! While some people will be busy this weekend celebrating the Jewish New Year (l’shana tova!), that does not mean you can’t spend your time hiding from all your relatives bored out of your mind! Why not use those precious minutes of peace as an opportunity to catch up on all your favorite titles? And this weekend, there are a ton of new movies and shows on streaming ready for you to discover. But don’t waste your time figuring out what to watch, because whether you’re looking on Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, or all of the above, starting with the freshest titles is always the wisest move. Here are the new releases you can watch this weekend and where to stream them.

New Movies and Shows to Stream This Weekend: Ratched, PEN15 Season 2, and All In: The Fight for Democracy

People are already buzzing about the binge-worthy shows and new movies on streaming this weekend, so we won’t let you get behind. First up on Netflix is the new series Ratched, the thrilling drama show starring Sarah Paulson as the infamous villain from “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” Over on Hulu, the hysterically-traumatic series Pen15 is releasing its second cringe-worthy season; and on Amazon Prime Video All In: The Fight for Democracy is ready and waiting for those who are looking to educate themselves on a major issue facing U.S. citizens today: voter suppression. We could keep raving about the impressive titles new on streaming this weekend, but instead we will just direct you to the content below:

New on Netflix September 18: Ratched

Sarah Paulson is Nurse Ratched in the new hit series Ratched on Netflix. Inspired by the classic novel “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” this Ryan Murphy and Evan Romansky drama series takes a deep dive into the story behind the novel’s main antagonist, Nurse Mildred Ratched and how she scammed, manipulated and bribed her way into psychiatric hospital in 1947. Star Sarah Paulson portrays the titular character as a woman teetering on the edge of both good and evil, and you never quite know if she considers herself the hero or villain of her own story, making the dark and twisted series that more compelling. Get ready to meet the real nurse in Ratched, one of the top shows to watch this month on Netflix.

Stream Ratched on Netflix

New on Hulu September 18: PEN15: Season 2

The adorkable comedy series Pen15 is back for another cringe-worthy, hormone-raging season on Hulu. Creators Maya Erskine and Anna Konkle are back to play the younger, teenage outcast versions of themselves in this hit comedy series set in the year 2000. However, this season you can expect all the same fun but also a twinge of darkness as the show examines the fallout of Anna’s parents’ divorce. But worry not, Pen15 seems to have beaten the sophomore slump with an impossibly-funnier second season that brings all the laughs and a ton more heart.

Stream PEN15: Season 2 on Hulu

New on Amazon Prime Video September 18: All In: The Fight for Democracy

New on Amazon Prime Video is All In: The Fight for Democracy, the exposing documentary about the truth of voter suppression in America. Through this film, filmmakers Lisa Cortes and Liz Garbus examine the history of voter suppression in the country and introduce us to the activists who are fighting the fight for U.S. citizens today. With interviews from today’s top leaders such as Stacey Abrams, Carol Anderson, Kristen Clarke and more, All In: The Fight for Democracy will inspire you to get to the polls and try to help those who have a harder time doing so.

Stream All In: The Fight for Democracy on Prime Video

Full List of New Movies and Shows on Streaming This Weekend

The options above only scratch the surface, so you know that this weekend’s full lineup will have amazing options for what to watch this weekend! For the full breakdown of the best movies and shows to stream now, or if you’re still undecided on what to stream this weekend, then check out the complete list below:

New on Netflix- Full List

Released Friday, September 18

American Barbecue Showdown *NETFLIX ORIGINAL
Jurassic World Camp Cretaceous *NETFLIX FAMILY
Ratched *NETFLIX ORIGINAL

New on Hulu- Full List

Released Friday, September 18

Babyteeth (2019)
Gemini Man (2019)
Pen15: Complete Season 2 (Hulu Original)
Sherman’s Showcase: Black History Month Special (IFC)
StarDog and TurboCat (2020)
The Fight (2020)

Released Sunday, September 20

The Haunted (2020)

New on Amazon Prime Video- Full List

Released Friday, September 18

All In: The Fight for Democracy *Amazon Original Movie (2020)
Antebellum (2020)
Gemini Man (2019)
Red Shoes and the Seven Dwarfs (2019)

New on Disney+ – Full List

Released Friday, September 18

Becoming – Original Series Premiere: Episodes 101-110 Available *Disney+ Original
Bend it Like Beckham
Coop & Cami Ask the World (S2)
Europe from Above (S1)
Ever After: A Cinderella Story
Kingdom of the Mummies (S1)
Marvel Super Hero Adventures (s4)
Notre Dame: Race Against the Inferno
Once Upon a Time (S1-7)
One Day At Disney – Episode 142 – “Dr. Natalie Mylniczenko: Veterinarian” *Disney+ Original
Soy Luna (S2-3)
Violetta (S3)
Weird But True – Episode 306 – “Trains” *Disney+ Original
Wicked Tuna (S9)

New on HBO- Full List

Released Friday, September 18

Habla Now (HBO)
La Musiquita Por Dentro, 2019 (HBO)

Released Saturday, September 19

The Invisible Man, 2020 (HBO)

New on Starz- Full List

Released Friday, September 18

Absolute Deception (2013)
Air (2015)
Brigsby Bear (2017)
Buttons: A Christmas Tale (2018)
Gattaca (1997)
Go (1999)
Maggie’s Plan (2016)
Man Of The House (2005)
Maudie (2017)
Norman: The Moderate Rise And Tragic Fall Of A New York Fixer (2017)
The Ballad Of Lucy Whipple (2000)
The Bravados (1958)
The Broken Land (1962)
The Bronze (2016)
The Covenant (2006)
The Glass House (2001)
The Master Of Disguise (2002)
Third Person (2014)
Truth (2015)

Released Sunday, September 20

Power Book II: Ghost – Episode 103

New on Showtime- Full List

Released Saturday, September 19

Paranoia

New on BritBox- Full List

Released Friday, September 18

This Farming Life: Season 4 | Exclusive, North American Premiere

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Keanu Reeves Talks Keeping Up His Gym Physique When Matrix 4 Shut Down

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The past few years have seen nostalgia dominate the entertainment industry. And as a result, countless long awaited sequels and reboots have found their way to theaters. One of those upcoming projects is Lana Wachowski’s mysterious Matrix 4 movie, which will feature a mixture of new and familiar faces. Keanu Reeves is back playing Neo, and he recently revealed how he managed to stay in shape during the months-long break of filming.

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SNEAK PEEK: EXCLUSIVE Preview of Marvel’s SPIDER-WOMAN #4

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Spider-Woman finds herself in the last place on Earth she wants to be: Wundagore Mountain. What could possibly bring Jess back to the place that gave her powers? Who would put someone through that trauma? The answers will shock you! It’s about to get very, VERY personal.

Swinging into stores and onto your favorite digital platforms on Wednesday 23 September

Author: Ross Hutchinson

South African father, technology, sci-fi, fantasy nut and lifelong comic reader….. my love of costumed capers started very early after a chance encounter with a spinner full of comics in a local convenience store. I am a fan of all things Marvel, Dc, and Image including X-men, X-force, New Mutants, Teen Titans, Saga, Hellboy, Wayward, Gen13, Nightwing, Sandman and many more.

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