The Toronto International Film Festival 2016: A preview

TORONTO – The Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), one of the most prestigious in the world, is about to kick off. Running Sept. 8-18, with almost 400 films, many of them of interest to progressive viewers, TIFF brings out tens of thousands of film aficionados, with hundreds of special guests, directors, actors and writers, representing 266 film premieres with films from 83 countries!

It’s no easy task to whittle down the list to a manageable number over the course of 11 days. Many of the films that will be shown and premiered represent world issues with political, historical and social significance. It’s not only entertainment, for example, as the who’s who of the progressive film community signed a letter condemning the impeachment process of suspended Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, including directors Ken Loach, Oliver Stone, John Sayles, actors Susan Sarandon, Wallace Shawn, Allan Cumming, Stephen Fry, Harry Belafonte, Danny Glover, Viggo Mortensen, and film writers Naomi Klein and Michael Ondaatj, to name a few. And many of them will be represented at TIFF.

Oliver Stone will screen Snowden, his new take on the famed whistleblower now residing in Russia.

Rob Reiner will present his film on the former U.S. president LBJ, and the prolific Chilean director Pablo Larraín (The Club, No) will bring two political films to the festival, one called Jackie, about the former first lady, and Neruda, about the 1948 manhunt for famed Chilean communist poet and politician who was forced underground. And even our current President Obama will be represented in a biopic entitled Barry, about his college years in New York.

Some highly anticipated films dealing with race will be screened this year. Riding on a wave of victory as the first prize winner at Sundance, Birth of a Nation, by first time director Nate Parker, will arrive in Canada. Taking the same name as the classic and controversial 1915 silent film by D. W. Griffith, this film rather deals with the 1831 slave rebellion led by Nat Turner, offering history seldom seen in American cinema.

A second film on the famous legal battle dealing with interracial marriage, the first being a documentary with the same name, Loving promises to offer an inspiring and emotional wallop, showing how far we’ve come, but how far we still have to go.

Haitian filmmaker Raoul Peck, who made two films about Patrice Lumumba, this time brings us “a stunning meditation on what it means to be Black in America.” I Am Not Your Negro is based on text from James Baldwin’s last work. Peck is also in post-production on a film about the young years of Karl Marx, a subject who unsurprisingly has been ignored in cinema until now.

Master film directors abound in a festival that respects the craft of filmmaking. The Cannes Film Festival Palme d’Or winner, I, Daniel Blake, by British working-class hero Ken Loach, is another deeply human portrayal of workers as victims of a cruel capitalist system favoring profits over people. Quirky U.S. director Jim Jarmusch, absent from the scene for awhile, brings a tale about the New Jersey city Paterson. Famed German filmmaker Werner Herzog comes with Salt and Fire, described as an “ecological thriller” starring two dynamic actors, Michael Shannon (99 Homes) and Mexican phenom Gael García Bernal (Fidel, Even the Rain). Fast becoming the most awarded Iranian director, Asghar Farhadi (About Elly, A Separation) presents another human drama, once again dealing with universal marital issues and emotions.

Several politically relevant dramas will be presented at TIFF this year, including American Pastoral starring accomplished actors Ewan McGregor and David Strathairn in a drama about a family attempting to survive the tumultuous times from the 60s to Watergate. In Dubious Battle, based on John Steinbeck’s Depression-era novel, deals with labor organizers and migratory workers in California, reminiscent of Grapes of Wrath.

But it’s always the Documentary Programme (we are in Canada) that offers the most bang for the buck. Citizen Jane: Battle for the City is not about Fonda but rather urban activist Jane Jacobs who saved New York neighborhoods in the 60s. It’s been awhile since we’ve seen a film about the revered muckraker, but All Governments Lie: Truth, Deception, and the Spirit of I.F. Stone will once again raise the issue of truth in the media. The Canadian doc Black Code exposes how governments use the Internet to spy. The European refugee crisis is addressed in the Italian doc Fire at Sea. The Skyjacker’s Tale recounts a forgotten moment in history about a most wanted fugitive who fled the Virgin Islands after losing a murder trial and skyjacking a plane to Cuba.

More docs on the docket: The Israeli Forever Pure revisits the signing of two Muslims to a popular Israeli soccer team and the ensuing storm of racism. Gaza Surf Club shows us Palestinians attempting to experience normal joys while living in what has been called the world’s largest open-air prison. Off Frame AKA Revolution Until Victory is a stunning compilation of footage from the early Palestinian Film Group. Politics, Instructions Manual focuses on the rise of the left-wing Spanish Podemos Party. And The War Show covers the tale of a Syrian DJ and the aftermath of the failed Arab Spring.

This is just a taste of the best that the film world has to offer. If you can’t be there in person check out the films online at and look for our upcoming reviews.

Photo: “In Dubious Battle”


Bill Meyer
Bill Meyer

Bill Meyer writes movie reviews for People’s World, often from film festivals. He is a keyboardist at Bill Meyer Music and a current member of the Detroit Federation of Musicians. He lives in Hamtramck, Michigan.