North America’s largest film festival opens Thursday in Toronto with a wide-ranging trove of new movies and a spotlight on global conflicts among other topics, such as mortality.
“It’s our most diverse slate ever, with 72 countries represented,” Toronto International Film Festival co-director Cameron Bailey told AFP. “There’s a lot of new filmmakers presenting this year too,” as well as 146 world premieres.
Bailey noted that many filmmakers this year have focused their lenses on recent unrest in Sri Lanka, the Middle East and elsewhere.
“We’ve seen these kinds of subjects treated in films before, but we’re hoping to go beyond the initial description of a conflict and offer deeper insights into what is going on,” Bailey said.
“State 194” shows the quest for U.N. recognition of Palestine, while candid interviews with former heads of Israel’s intelligence and security agency Shin Bet feature in “The Gatekeepers.”
Other documentaries include topics like the colonization of the Western Sahara and the consequential humanitarian dilemma of refugees and the displaced in “Sons of the Clouds: The Last Colony” directed by Academy Award winning actor, Javier Bardem.
“Rafea: Solar Mama” follows the journey of one Bedouin mother living on the Jordan-Iraq border who ventures to the Barefoot College in India, along with 30 illiterate grandmothers in a bid to become solar engineers.
Another documentary that explores the extraterrestrial is “The Lebanese Rocket Society”, which tells the story of Lebanon’s short-lived ambition of space traveling that reflects the Arab world’s ‘utopian’ aspirations.
First-time filmmaker Damien Ounouri debuts his directorial skills in “Fidai” – a documentary that profiles a 70-year old veteran of the Algeria’s battle for independence, speaking of his experience as an underground soldier for the National Liberation Front.
As for feature-length films, “Detroit Unleaded” is dubbed as a light-hearted coming-of-age story of a young Lebanese American who takes over his late father’s gas business, while “Out of the Dark” tells the story of a young Palestinian grad student and an Israeli lawyer who fall in love despite social, personal and political implications.
“After the Battle” takes place post Arab Spring, when the lives of a revolutionary and a pro-Hosni Mubarak horseman collide, a drama shot on location in the hot-bed of Tahrir Square in Cairo.
If global conflicts seem too heavy to go with popcorn and soda, there is also an increasing number of films about aging and death, largely attributable to baby boomers growing older and “facing their own mortality,” Bailey said.
The festival opens Thursday evening with the futuristic time-bending action thriller “Looper,” starring Bruce Willis, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Emily Blunt, and runs through September 16, showcasing 289 feature films and 83 shorts.
It is the biggest in North America and has traditionally been a key event for Oscar-conscious studios and distributors.
The movie industry is still “clawing its way back” from the 2008 recession, which saw a significant drop-off in the buying of film distribution rights at the Toronto film festival, according to Bailey, but the festival remains a popular venue.
The city will also play host to the Toronto Palestine Film Festival on September 29, in a bid to show the rich culture, society and politics of Palestine through cinema and visual arts, which will run until October 7.
The first TPFF was held in 2008 to coincide with the 60th anniversary of the Nakba.