This year’s meta-festival drama came in the form of the simultaneous WGA and SAG strikes and American labor union actions that are having a massive effect on almost every facet of the Canadian industry, even though we have our own guilds operating under different structures. Such is the weight of these writers and stars that many productions that take place here ground to a halt, once again illustrating that what takes place with our neighbors down south dramatically affects us Canadians up here, even if, save for some smoke from this summer’s fires, the reciprocal is rarely the case.
The reality of these strikes meant that most A-list actors would be skipping the festival, resulting in a reduction of that ephemeral notion of “buzz” that permeates events such as this. One clever programming decision was to select numerous directorial efforts from many big-name celebrities–Anna Kendrick, Chris Pine, Kristen Scott Thomas, Michael Keaton, and others–presumably in part to lure them up here under the guise of being directors (the DGA is not part of the current strike action).
While the films played, none of the directors I just listed bothered to come anyway. Viggo Mortensen, practically an adopted Canadian by this point, was here for his film, and Ethan Hawke braved a 10+ hour bus ride to ensure he was in town for his film’s debut that starred his daughter Maya. While Kendrick’s film, in particular, was a worthy selection, many others felt like a move to fill seats with the promise of talent that never did show up to woo the crowds.
Many of these directed-by-stars titles took slots that in past years would have been held for major films that, rather than World Premiering here, were instead showcased at places like Venice and Telluride. The reasons why one film plays or doesn’t are manifold, of course, and a significant part of grabbing these selections is outside the control of TIFF and its programming team. But this was the year that the divide between have and have nots felt most acute, with key Fall films like Sofia Coppola’s “Priscilla” (which was even shot in Toronto!), Bradley Cooper’s “Maestro,” Michael Mann’s “Ferrari,” David Fincher’s “The Killer,” and, above all, Yorgos Lanthimos’ “Poor Things” shunned from this year’s TIFF slate, all premiering at Venice instead.