‘Joker’ and Fred Rogers drama among galas set for Toronto film festival

TORONTO — A standalone Joker film starring Joaquin Phoenix, a drama featuring Tom Hanks as Fred Rogers, and a concert-style film from Bruce Springsteen are among the projects bound for this year’s Toronto International Film Festival.

Organizers touted a “strong, eclectic and diverse” mix of big-studio features and smaller titles on Tuesday as they unveiled the first slate of galas and special presentations for this year’s festival, which runs Sept. 5-15.

Fifty per cent of the galas are directed or co-directed by women, which TIFF co-head and executive director Joana Vicente said is a first.

“TIFF has signed a pledge on the programming side of things to have half of our programmers women, to have better representation. We strive to get more films directed by women,” Vicente said in an interview, noting the final stats on the full slate of films will be revealed in August.

“At the end of the day we’re choosing wonderful films, so it’s so great when it ends up that we can have 50 per cent of those gala presentations being directed by women.”

Galas include the highly anticipated psychological thriller “Joker” by “The Hangover” director Todd Phillips, starring Phoenix as the titular maniacal DC Comics character and Robert De Niro as a talk-show host who influences him. It will make its North American premiere at the fest.

Meanwhile, “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” by Marielle Heller will have its world premiere, with Hanks starring as the aforementioned children’s television entertainer alongside Matthew Rhys as a journalist assigned to profile him.

And Springsteen will have a world-premiere gala with “Western Stars,” a performance documentary film in which he plays his album of the same name. He is also credited as co-director, with Thom Zimny.

Last week another major music-focused film was announced for TIFF: “Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and The Band” by Daniel Roher, which will make history as the first Canadian-made documentary to open the festival.

The closing night film will be the world premiere of “Radioactive” by Marjane Satrapi, starring Rosamund Pike as physicist and chemist Marie Curie.

“Radioactive” and “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” are among several star-studded biographical films on the docket.

Others include Rupert Goold’s “Judy,” starring Renee Zellweger as singer and actress Judy Garland.

“Ford v Ferrari” stars Matt Damon as American car designer Carroll Shelby and Christian Bale as driver Ken Miles.

In “Just Mercy” by Destin Daniel Cretton, Michael B. Jordan plays renowned civil rights defence lawyer Bryan Stevenson in a cast that also includes Jamie Foxx and Brie Larson.

Russell Crowe, Charlie Hunnam, Nicholas Hoult, and George MacKay are among the stars in Justin Kurzel’s outlaw story “True History of the Kelly Gang.”

“Harriet” by Kasi Lemmons stars Cynthia Erivo as anti-slavery activist Harriet Tubman.

Eddie Murphy stars as comedian Rudy Ray Moore in “Dolemite Is My Name” by Craig Brewer.

And Australian filmmaker Unjoo Moon’s debut feature “I Am Woman” stars Tilda Cobham-Hervey as singer Helen Reddy, who topped the charts with the song “I Am Woman.”

“I think there’s an appetite to understand our present reality, and through films about true subjects, true figures, that feeds that appetite,” said Diana Sanchez, senior director of film at TIFF.

More than 50 films were unveiled on Tuesday, many of them with acclaimed directors and early Oscar buzz.

Other notables include Netflix’s “The Laundromat” by Steven Soderbergh, starring Meryl Streep, Gary Oldman, and Antonio Banderas in a story of journalists probing the so-called Panama Papers money laundering scandal.

John Crowley directs “The Goldfinch,” starring Ansel Elgort and Nicole Kidman in a tale of a young man caught up in art forgery.

The 1950s crime drama “Motherless Brooklyn” counts Edward Norton as its director, writer and star. He plays a private investigator with Tourette syndrome in a cast that also includes Willem Dafoe, Bruce Willis, and Alec Baldwin.

Lorene Scafaria’s “Hustlers,” about Manhattan strip-club performers targeting Wall Street clients, has a cast including Jennifer Lopez, Constance Wu, Lizzo, and Cardi B.

“Knives Out” by Rian Johnson is a murder mystery starring Daniel Craig, Chris Evans, Jamie Lee Curtis, Toni Collette, Don Johnson, Michael Shannon, and Christopher Plummer.

The fest also scored the relationship drama “Marriage Story” by Noah Baumbach, starring Adam Driver, Scarlett Johansson, and Laura Dern.

Johansson is also in the satirical wartime dark comedy “Jojo Rabbit” by Taika Waititi.

“The Two Popes” by Fernando Meirelles explores the relationship between Pope Benedict and Pope Francis, played by Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce, respectively.

And three Canadian titles were announced ahead of next week’s announcement of the full slate of homegrown films: “Guest of Honour” by Atom Egoyan, starring Luke Wilson and Rossif Sutherland in a story of a father and his daughter “American Woman,” a fictionalized take on events surrounding the radical 1970s group that kidnapped American heiress Patty Hearst, directed by Semi Chellas and “The Song of Names” by Francois Girard, starring Clive Owen as a U.S.-based violinist reconnecting with his Polish roots.

There’s also a big-studio animated feature on the list with DreamWorks Animation and Pearl Studio’s “Abominable” by Jill Culton.

“The galas and special presentation programs I think really offer a barometer for what’s to come in the rest of the festival, which is why today’s announcement is so important,” said Sanchez.

“This is not over. We work throughout the summer and we’ll be adding titles to the different sections.”

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