Toronto film festival looks at survival in uncertain times

The Mountain Between Us, starring Idris Elba and Kate Winslet, will be shown at the Toronto International Film Festival.
The Mountain Between Us, starring Idris Elba and Kate Winslet, will be shown at the Toronto International Film Festival.PHOTO: 20TH CENTURY FOX/YOUTUBE

TORONTO • The enemies are at the gate. So even as the race for the Oscars heats up this week at the Toronto International Film Festival, a raft of movies is also focusing on survival in dark times, with the mounting political, religious and racial tensions around the world.

More than 300 feature and short films from 74 countries will be screened at the biggest film festival in North America, which opens tomorrow and runs till Sept 17.

The event is often seen as a way for Oscar-conscious studios to generate buzz about their movies, with hundreds of film-makers and actors set to hit the red carpet in Canada's largest city.

But "this year's big theme is survival", festival chief executive Piers Handling said.

From climate change and overpopulation to terrorism, North Korea and fringe right-wing groups in America, people are facing "an atmosphere of great uncertainty and a real fear about certain issues".

"Some of the films are absolutely uplifting, showing that individually or collectively (you can overcome) if you harness your resources and work together," he noted.

He highlighted The Mountain Between Us, starring Idris Elba and Kate Winslet as two strangers fighting to stay alive after a plane crash in the wilderness, and Stronger, about the 2013 Boston Marathon attack and starring Jake Gyllenhaal, as examples of films showing individuals trying to survive.

By contrast, American director Alexander Payne offers a quirky solution to the issue of human consumption rapidly exhausting Earth's resources.

His social satire Downsizing, about a man who chooses to shrink himself to simplify his life, stars Matt Damon.

Other featured films chronicle efforts to live in times of chaos.

Among those expected to generate buzz are the Winston Churchill biopic Darkest Hour, starring Gary Oldman; Angelina Jolie's Cambodian genocide drama First They Killed My Father; and Kings, based on the 1992 Los Angeles race riots, starring Daniel Craig and Halle Berry.

In past years, films such as Spotlight (2015), 12 Years A Slave (2013) and Slumdog Millionaire (2008) went on from winning Toronto's audience prize for best picture to taking the top honour at the Oscars.

Last year, musical La La Land won the prize and took home six Oscars, including best actress and best director.

Many of the films being positioned for accolades this year will have already premiered at the Venice, New York or Telluride film festivals before they are screened in Toronto.

They include Battle Of The Sexes with Emma Stone and Steve Carell as tennis stars Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs; Mother!, starring Jennifer Lawrence; and George Clooney's Coen brothers-scripted Suburbicon.

Mr Handling insists Toronto continues to be the launching pad for Oscar contenders.

"I think Toronto is still seen as the key place to amplify films going into awards season. Films may premiere in Venice or Telluride, but the amplification actually happens here in Toronto," he said.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 06, 2017, with the headline 'Toronto film festival looks at survival in uncertain times'. Subscribe