Make the most of your TIFF experience by catching acquisition titles, films still seeking distribution in North America. TIFF may be your one chance to see these on a big screen.
Oscar hopefuls tend to get the better share of the buzz at TIFF, but it’s the acquisition titles — the gems that have yet to be picked up for North American distribution — thatwhich you should be seeking out. A surprising number of them are made by big name directors and feature a big name cast, like Lone Scherfig’s The Riot Club from a few years back.
Even some films that do get picked up effectively disappear into oblivion with very short theatrical runs or straight to VOD releases, like last year’s superlative Sherpa, Women He’s Undressed, Our Loved Ones, and Louder Than Bombs. To help you narrow down your choices, here’s a list of 20 must-see acquisition titles we’re excited about.
- Nelly directed by Anne Émond (Canadian distributor only)
This unconventional biopic about Québécois author and sex worker Nelly Arcand is beautifully shot. Like Émond’s previous film, Our Loved Ones, it deserves a big screen. Don’t be fooled by the fact that eOne technically has Canadian distribution rights: Our Loved Ones only opened in Quebec before heading straight to VOD.
- Carrie Pilby directed by Susan Johnson
Though it stars Indie It Girl Bel Powley as a hyper-intelligent lonelyheart 19-year-old who’s estranged from her father (Gabriel Byrne), it’s just smart enough to be a hard mainstream sell. This sort of film is usually told with a young male protagonist, so it’s refreshing to see this more wholesome, less dysfunctional female version of Igby Goes Down.
- Sami Blood directed by Amanda Kernell
Already one of the best films of the festival, Amanda Kernell’s film is about an Indigenous Sami girl in Sweden who’s caught between her family and the outside world that won’t accept her. It’s stirring, moving stuff, with more than a few echoes to Canada’s own shameful past treatment of its Indigenous peoples.
- The Levelling directed by Hope Dickson Leach
This subtle, devastating take on a young woman and her estranged father grieving the loss of her brother makes great use of the beautiful and haunting English countryside. It also features a breakout performance by Ellie Kendrick.
- The Bad Batch directed by Ana Lily Amirpour
Ana Lily Amirpour’s follow-up to her gorgeous, genre-bending debut, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, just picked up the Special Jury Prize at the Venice Film Festival — though not a distributor. Mixing cannibalism, spaghetti westerns, and more, it’s sure to be a highlight of the festival.
- Una directed by Benedict Andrews
Playwright David Harrower adapts his play Blackbird, which took Broadway by storm earlier this year starring Jeff Daniels and Michelle Williams, for the screen. Andrews is fresh of a multinational run of his Young Vic production of A Streetcar Named Desire starring Gillian Anderson, and makes his directorial debut here. This mostly two-hander starring Rooney Mara and Ben Mendelssohn has already been getting raves out of Telluride.
- Home directed by Fien Troch
One of three films directed by women to be selected for TIFF’s second annual Platform competition, Home just picked up the Best Director prize at Venice. The film follows three adolescent boys whose friendship and self-control are tested by a traumatic event.
- The Bleeder directed by Philippe Falardeau (Canadian distributor only)
Falardeau’s follow-up to last year’s oh-so-Canadian My Internship in Canada sends him to the States to work on someone else’s script with big name movie stars: Liev Schrieber and Naomi Watts. Easily one of Canada’s best working directors, whom I dubbed a “national treasure” earlier this year, Falardeau is sure to give us another winner with this boxing picture.
- A Quiet Passion directed by Terence Davies (Canadian distributor only)
With A Quiet Passion, Terence Davies continues to smash the patriarchy with his depiction of strong women who won’t let men run their lives. His focus here is on American poet Emily Dickinson, underappreciated in her time, who refused to conform to conventional mores, even if it meant spending life as a spinster. Like all Davies films, it’s also about the passage of time, and is shot with a gorgeous, painterly touch.
- The Stairs directed by Hugh Gibson
Hugh Gibson’s documentary The Stairs, about recovering drug addicts in Toronto’s Regent Park neighbourhood, is a bracing, compassionate look at an often forgotten Toronto population. Police brutality is a forgone conclusion for these people, who are struggling to get by and clean up their lives. Easily one of the best documentaries of the year, and an important Toronto film, it’s not to be missed at the festival.
- Planetarium directed by Rebecca Zlotowski
From the trailer, it seems this Natalie Portman vehicle is a quirky look at a pair of sisters who talk to the dead, and do it for show. But if Personal Shopper is any indication, a dumb-sounding plot in the right hands can produce a smart and emotional film. If nothing else, the period production design and costumes look to die for.
- Goldstone directed by Ivan Sen
David Gulpilil, whose performance as the eponymous Charlie in 2014’s Charlie’s Country was one of the best of the year, returns to TIFF with the outback thriller Goldstone, bowing in the Platform competition.
- Maliglutit (Searchers) Zacharias Kunuk
The story itself may be conventional and even outdated — it’s an arctic take on John Ford’s Western, Searchers, (a Northern, if you will). But it’s entirely worth it for the gorgeous vistas and insight into Inuit culture. Seeing Igloos get built, food prepared, and people readying for bed is fascinating enough, but the film finds a multitude of new ways to look at landscapes of snow and rock that go for miles.
- Prevenge directed by Alice Lowe
One of several films directed by women to screen in the festival’s sophisticated genre showcase, the Vanguard section, this pregnancy revenge thriller has already been getting raves out of Venice. Written, directed by, and starring a very pregnant Lowe, it’s sure to be unlike anything committed to film to date.
- Citizen Jane: Battle for the City directed by Matt Tyrnauer
It’s hard to imagine this Jane Jacobs documentary not being a hit with Toronto audiences, as this is both her hometown and a city full of urban planning enthusiasts. But it’s still seeking North American distribution.
- After the Storm directed by Hirokazu Koreeda (US distributor only)
Koreeda specializes in gentle, humane family dramas; his recent gem Our Little Sister hit cinemas shortly before the festival. I suspect After the Storm, which bowed in Un Certain Regard at Cannes earlier this year, will be no exception, receiving positive notices at the festival.
- Daguerrotype directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa
Although a major auteur on the international festival scene, Kurosawa’s previous effort, Journey to the Shore, which screened at TIFF last year, went straight to VOD. Bowing in TIFF’s Platform section, it looks sure to have sumptuous visuals, if nothing else, and it may be your only chance to see it on the big screen.
- Nocturama directed by Bertrand Bonnello
One of several films about terrorism to be featured at TIFF this year, Nocturama has already proved a favourite among critics at the festival. Passed over by Cannes and Venice, for reasons unknown given how well it’s been received — many citing it as Bonnello’s best and an extremely important film — it’s a boon for TIFF’s Platform competition.
- In Between directed by Maysaloun Hamoud
This marvelous, patriarchy-smashing debut from Hamoud finds three Palestinian women living together in an apartment in Tel Aviv. Each of them has different relationships to their heritage and approaches to conservatism. Together, they find the strength to recover from a violent event and face an unfair, sexist world without losing themselves.
- Heal the Living by Katell Quillévéré
Boasting a score by Alexandre Desplat, Heal the Living has already gotten positive buzz out of Venice, as a smart film with a twist on a familiar premise. It will also bow in the Platform competition.