TIFF 2017 Films Featuring and Directed By Black Talent

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TIFF 2017 Films Featuring and Directed By Black Talent
Posted by Wilson Morales

September 6, 2017

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With the exception of Denzel Washington’s Fences, which didn’t start playing for the press until November, the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival had the strongest lineup ever in terms of films featuring or directed by Black talent. With Moonlight leading the pack, we had Loving, Queen of Katwe, The Birth of a Nation, The Magnificent Seven, A United Kingdom, The Wedding Party, and plenty of talent from each of these of films in attendance with the hopes of landing Oscar buzz.

The big films coming to the festival this year include Dee Rees’ Mudbound, which is the one film that is garnering serious Oscar buzz for picture, director, screenplay, best actress and supporting actor. No one has seen it outside of Sundance, so the question remains if the buzz from that festival still holds weight months later. Rees is actually part of a trio of African American female directors who will have their feature films play at TIFF and then released by a studio later this year. The other two are Angela Robinson, whose Professor Marston and the Wonder Woman will have its World Premiere before Annapurna Pictures releases it in theaters and Maggie Betts is bringing her Novitiate to the fest, having played at Sundance as well. Sony Pictures Classics will distribute it later in 2017.

A number of Oscar winners are coming with new films that could generate some Oscar buzz.

Denzel Washington was here last year with The Magnificent Seven, and he’s back again with Roman J. Esquire. No trailer has been shown yet, so it’s anyone’s guess if the film will bring him to the Best Actor top five talk. Halle Berry is coming in with the LA race riot drama Kings that pairs her with Daniel Craig. Octavia Spencer is in Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water, which is drawing raves having played in recent festivals.

Idris Elba is featured in two films (Mountain Between Us and Molly’s Game) so his time at the festival will be quite busy.

Here’s a preview of several films that will premiere at the 2017 Toronto Film Festival that are directed by or starring Black talent.

After having its its World Premiere at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival, director Dee Rees’ Mudbound is ready to play at TIFF to capture the same buzz id

Based on Hillary Jordan’s 2008 novel of the same name, in which Virgil Williams wrote the screenplay with Rees, the cast includes Carey Mulligan, Jason Clarke, Jason Mitchell, Mary J. Blige, Garrett Hedlund, Rob Morgan and Jonathan Banks.

Set in the post-WWII South, Mudbound is an epic story of two families pitted against a barbaric social hierarchy and an unrelenting landscape as they simultaneously fight the battle at home and the battle abroad. The film is about friendship, unacknowledged heritage and the unending struggle for and against the land

Newly transplanted from the quiet civility of Memphis, the McAllan family is underprepared and overly hopeful for Henry’s (Jason Clarke) grandiose farming dreams. Laura (Carey Mulligan) struggles to keep the faith in her husband’s losing venture, meanwhile, for Hap (Rob Morgan) and Florence Jackson (Mary J. Blige), whose families have worked the land for generations, every day is a losing venture as they struggle bravely to build some small dream of their own. The war upends both families’ plans as their returning loved ones, Jamie (Garrett Hedlund) and Ronsel (Jason Mitchell) forge a fast, uneasy friendship that challenges them all.

Sony Pictures will have the world premiere for Denzel Washington‘s latest film, the  legal thriller Roman Israel, Esq.

Denzel Washington, Colin Farrell, Carmen Ejogo, Nazneen Contractor, Amanda Warren, Joseph David-Jones, DeRon Horton, Tony Plana, and Amari Cheatom

Written and directed by Dan Gilroy,  the cast also includes Colin Farrell, Carmen Ejogo, Nazneen Contractor, Joseph David-Jones DeRon Horton, Lynda Gravatt, Amanda Warren, Shelley Hennig, Hugo Armstrong, Sam Gilroy, Tony Plana, and Amari Cheatom.

The story centers on an awkward, reclusive lawyer named Roman J. Israel (Washington), who has worked as a legal researcher in Los Angeles for decades. When his partner has a heart attack, Israel suddenly takes on the role of the firm’s frontman. He soon uncovers details about the crusading law firm’s history that run afoul of his values of helping the poor and dispossessed, and finds himself in an existential crisis that leads to extreme action.

Farrell will play the slick, money-focused lawyer who recruits the researcher to his firm, while Ejogo plays one of the female leads, a worker at a civil rights organization.

20th Century Fox is bringing down the romantic drama The Mountain Between Us, starring Idris Elba and Kate Winslet.

An adaptation of Charles Martin‘s 2010 novel,  the film centers on writer Ashley Knox, engaged to be married, and a surgeon Dr. Ben Payne who charter a plane to get them home after inclement weather delays their flight. When the plane crashes and they realize help is not coming, they embark on a perilous journey across hundreds of miles of wilderness, pushing one another to endure and discovering strength they never knew possible.

Directed by Hany Abu-Assad from an adapted screenplay by J. Mills Goodloe and Chris Weitz, the film co-stars Dermot Mulroney and Beau Bridges.

The Mountain Between Us is set to open on October 20, 2017.

The second film which stars Elba is Molly’s Game, which he co-stars with Jessica Chastain and is screenwriter Aaron Sorkin’s directorial debut.

Molly’s Game is the true story of Molly Bloom (Chastain), a beautiful, young, Olympic-class skier who ran the world’s most exclusive high-stakes poker game for a decade before being arrested in the middle of the night by 17 FBI agents wielding automatic weapons. Her players included Hollywood royalty, sports stars, business titans and finally, unbeknownst to her, the Russian mob. Her only ally is her criminal defense lawyer (Elba), who learns that there’s much more to Molly than the tabloids lead us to believe.

Also featured in the film are Kevin Costner, Michael Cera, Brian d’Arcy James, Chris O’Dowd, Bill Camp, Graham Greene, Claire Rankin, Joe Keery, and Jeremy Strong.

STX Entertainment will release the film in theaters on Nov. 22.

The Weinstein Company will present The Upside, starring Bryan Cranston and Kevin Hart. It’s the English-language remake of the critically-acclaimed and box office hit The Intouchables.

Directed by Neil Burger (Divergent, Limitless) from a script written by Jon Hartmere, the film chronicles the unexpected friendship between Phillip Lacasse (Cranston), a Park Avenue billionaire left paralyzed after a hang-gliding accident, and convicted felon Dell (Hart), recently released from prison and in need of a job and a fresh start. From worlds apart, Phillip and Dell form an unlikely bond, bridging heir differences and gaining invaluable wisdom in the process, giving each man a renewed sense of passion for all of life’s possibilities.

The film also stars Nicole Kidman, Julianna Margulies and Aja Naomi King.

The Upside will open nationwide March 9, 2018.

Another film to have a World Premiere is Turkish-French writer/director Deniz Gamze Ergüven‘s race drama “Kings,” starring Academy Award winner Halle Berry and Daniel Craig. 

The film is a drama set during the 1992 Los Angeles riots that followed the acquittal of the police officers charged with the 1992 excessive beating of Rodney King, which was caught on tape.

Millie (Berry) is a hardworking single mom with a soft spot for strays. She already has eight children living in her house and will soon bring home another. Her neighbour Obie (Craig) is the local loose cannon, and the only white man in an area largely inhabited by African Americans, Latinos, and Koreans. With racial tensions running dangerously high, Millie and Obie would appear to be unlikely allies. Yet following the acquittal of four of the officers accused of beating Rodney King, these two must navigate the gathering chaos in the city of South Central, Los Angeles to bring Millie’s kids home safely.

Featured in the film are Douglas Spain, Lamar Johnson, Issac Ryan Brown, Kaalan Walker and Rachel Hilson.

Erguven, who directed the acclaimed, Oscar-nominated French drama “Mustang,” is making her English language debut.

Certain to draw long lines for tickets following rave reviews from Venice and Telluride is director Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water, which stars Sally Hawkins, Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins, Doug Jones, Michael Stuhlbarg, and Academy Award winner Octavia Spencer.

In 1963, Elisa (Sally Hawkins) works as a janitor at a US government laboratory. One night, a strange, amphibious creature (Doug Jones) is wrangled into the facility. Elisa is more fascinated than frightened. What scares her more is the threat posed by the federal agent in charge (Michael Shannon). Cruel and self-serving, he seems convinced the surest way to handle the mysterious creature is to kill it. With the help of her neighbor Giles (Richard Jenkins), her co-worker Zelda (Octavia Spencer), and a sympathetic scientist (Michael Stuhlbarg), Elisa hatches a plan to save the creature’s life, at the risk of her own.

Fox Searchlight will release The Shape of Water in North American theaters on December 8, 2017.

Making its World Premiere is director Angela Robinson‘s Professor Marston & The Wonder Women, which centers on the creation of the legendary comic book character.

In a superhero origin tale unlike any other, this is the true story of 1940s Harvard psychologist Dr. William Moulton Marston, the inventor of the lie detector and creator of the iconic Wonder Woman, who defends his feminist superhero against charges of ‘sexual perversity’ while at the same time maintaining a secret that could have destroyed him. Unknown to others, Marston’s inspiration for Wonder Woman was his wife Elizabeth Marston and their lover Olive Byrne, two empowered women in the field of psychology who defied convention, building a secret life together with Marston that rivaled the greatest of superhero disguises.

The film stars Luke Evans as Dr. William Moulton Marston, Rebecca Hall as Elizabeth Marston, and Bella Heathcote as Olive Byrne; along with Connie Britton and Oliver Platt.

Annapurna Pictures will release the film in theaters on October 13.

Winner of the 2017 Sundance Film Festival “Breakthrough Director” Award, Sony Pictures Classics is bringing writer-director Maggie Betts‘ Novitiate, which stars Margaret Qualley, Dianna Agron, Julianne Nicholson, Liana Liberato, Eline Powell, Melissa Leo, Morgan Saylor, Chris Zylka, Denis O’Hare, Maddie Hasson, and Ashley Bell.

Spanning over a decade from the early 1950s through to the mid-60s, NOVITIATE is about a young girl’s first initiation with love, in this case with God. Raised by a non-religious, single mother in rural Tennessee, a scholarship to Catholic school soon finds Cathleen drawn into the mystery and romanticism of a life devoted to the worship and servitude of God.

With the dawn of the Vatican II era, radical changes in the Church are threatening the course of nuns’ lives. As she progresses from the postulant to the novitiate stage of training, she finds her faith repeatedly confronted and challenged by the harsh, often inhumane realities of being a servant of God. Cathleen finds herself struggling with issues of faith, sexuality, and recent changes in life of the Church.

Oscar winner Brie Larson (The Room) is making her directorial debut with Unicorn Store, which she also produced and stars in. The cast also includes Samuel L. Jackson, Joan Cusack, Bradley Whitford, Mamoudou Athie, Hamish Linklater, Martha MacIsaac, Karan Soni, and Annaleigh Ashford.

Kit (Larson) is a die-hard dreamer, an artist whose canvases are riddled with rainbows and glitter. Unfortunately, art school doesn’t want her, and her New Age parents (Joan Cusack and Bradley Whitford) feel it’s time she grew up. Kit gets a temp gig at an ad agency and it seems she’s finally surrendered herself to inevitable adulthood. But then along come a series of mysterious invitations to a hidden store, where a cheerful salesman in a shiny pink suit (Samuel L. Jackson) offers her something she’s spent her whole life waiting for: her very own unicorn. The one condition is that Kit must prove she’s responsible enough to take care of her magical pet. With the help of a new friend, Virgil (TIFF 2017 Rising Star Mamoudou Athie), Kit gets to work constructing a stable — but can this promise of a fabled creature really come true?

The festival will also showcase a number of documentaries, including some that center on some well-known figures.

American Masters Pictures is bringing down Sammy Davis, Jr.: I’ve Gotta Be Me, which will have its World Premiere and directed by Peabody Award-winning filmmaker Sam Pollard.

The documentary puts the spotlight on Davis’ personal life and career as he navigated through the shifting tides of civil rights and racial progress during 20th century America.

Davis’ journey to achieve the American Dream was complex, complicated and contradictory. As a black entertainer during a time when the doors of show business rarely opened for people of color, he frequently found himself bracketed by the bigotry of white America and the distaste of black America; he was the most public black figure to embrace Judaism, thereby yoking his identity to another persecuted minority.

The festival will have the World Premiere of Sighted Eyes/ Feeling Heart, award-winning filmmaker Tracy Heather Strain‘s long-awaited documentary on the life of the iconic playwright, communist, feminist, lesbian, and outspoken trailblazer Lorraine Hansberry (A Raisin in the Sun).

In the late 1950s, when Lorraine Hansberry set out to write a play about the struggles of an ordinary black family on Chicago’s South Side, no work by a female African-American playwright had ever been produced on Broadway. Nearly six decades later her acclaimed, groundbreaking play “A Raisin in the Sun” remains a beloved theatrical jewel, but the fascinating story of its author is not widely known.

Narrated by award-winning actress LaTanya Richardson Jackson and featuring the voice of Tony Award-winning actress Anika Noni Rose as Lorraine Hansberry, Sighted Eyes/Feeling Heart is filled with insightful on-camera interviews with those who knew her best, including Sidney Poitier, Ruby Dee, Harry Belafonte and Lorraine’s sister Mamie Hansberry.

Ten years in the making, director Sophie Fiennes’ much-anticipated Grace Jones: Bloodlight & Bami, the BBC Films/BFI/Irish Film Board-backed production on the iconic performer, is ready to be shown to the world.

Grace Jones, the statuesque Jamaican model-turned-singer, actress and icon has made a career performing versions of herself. But who is the real Grace Jones behind the masks and makeup? This film moves between her personae onstage and off. In the subtitle, “bloodlight” refers to the studio signal for recording and “bami” is a Jamaican flatbread. They stand for art and life.

Besides seeing some of her private life which includes her family in Jamaica, in the studio with long-time collaborators Sly & Robbie, and in Paris with her one-time image maker and lover, Jean-Paul Goude, the film also showcases performances from a 2016 concert where Jones performs songs such as “Slave to the Rhythm,” “Love is the Drug” and “Amazing Grace.”

Sara Driver’s documentary “Boom for Real: The Late Teenage Years of Jean-Michel Basquiat,” the third feature-length film by the filmmaker will premiere in the TIFF Docs section at the Toronto Intl. Film Festival.

‘Boom for Real’ combines the life of Basquiat, as this effervescent figure, during his late formative years in New York City, and how his vision was embodied not only by the city, but its people and arts culture of the late 1970s and ’80s,” according to a statement. His story is told through archival footage and through the memories of people who knew him personally, including artist Fab 5 Freddy, Jarmusch and graffiti artist Lee Quiñones.

From the segregated American South to the fashion capitals of the world, operatic fashion editor André Leon Talley’s life and career are on full display in The Gospel According to André, directed by Kate Novack.

André Leon Talley has been at the center of the fashion world for decades. Occupying the front row of runway shows as a six-and-a-half-foot black man, he stands out “like the black Rockette” (as Whoopi Goldberg says). A long-time editor of and contributor to Vogue, he’s a ubiquitous presence in fashion coverage.

André opens up about his journey from humble beginnings in Durham, North Carolina, to being an arbiter of taste in Paris and New York. Two women are key to his story. His grandmother Bennie Frances Davis, a maid on Duke’s campus, raised André with a strong sense of discipline. “You can be aristocratic and not come from an aristocratic family,” he says. His second mentor was Diana Vreeland, who took him on as an assistant for a fashion exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1974 and helped launch his career.

The film traces his journey with rich archival footage and commentaries from Anna Wintour, Marc Jacobs, Tom Ford, Bethann Hardison, Valentino, and Manolo Blahnik, testifying to André’s gifts.

EbonyLife Films, who made a splash last year with The Wedding Party, is back at the festival with The Royal Hibiscus Hotel, the only Nigerian selection and one of just three African features in the Contemporary World Cinema category, which spotlights forty-eight of the best new films worldwide.

Set in Lagos and London, The Royal Hibiscus Hotel centers on a couple, Segun and Rose Adeniyi, who run a charming, but run-down, boutique hotel in Lagos, Nigeria. In desperation, Segun decides to sell the hotel without his wife’s knowledge, as a way of settling all their debts. Their daughter, Opeoluwa, is living in London, working a dead-end job while trying to open her own restaurant. When Ope decides to return to Nigeria, Mom and Dad are elated for different reasons. Dad wants her to sign the papers to sell the hotel she is destined to inherit, while Mom can’t wait to marry her off. Meanwhile, Ope meets Deji, a charming young businessman with a secret that threatens her plans to restore the hotel’s fortunes. Can love survive deception and will Ope manage to fulfill her dreams?

The cast includes Zainab Balogun, Kenneth Okolie, Deyemi Okanlawon and O.C. Ukeje, with veteran actors Rachel Oniga, Jide Kosoko, Olu Jacobs and Joke Silva, many of whom are expected to join the director in Toronto for the screening.

Another film from Africa playing at the festival is Five Fingers for Marseilles, the debut feature from rising South African filmmaking duo Michael Matthews and Sean Drummond

Near the colonial town of Marseilles in the rugged Eastern Cape of South Africa, a group of rebellious friends dubbed the Five Fingers use well-placed eggs and slingshots to drive off the oppressive police force. But when the cops seize quick-tempered Tau’s childhood love, Lerato, he goes from throwing eggs to shooting bullets. Scared of capture or worse, Tau flees, returning 20 years later to a town, and friends, transformed by the violence caused that day. With the crooked cops now replaced by a caustic gang, Tau must marshal what remains of the Fingers to once again defend their home.

The cast includes Vuyo Dabula, Hamilton Dhlamini, Zethu Dlomo, Kenneth Nkosi, Mduduzi Mabaso, Aubrey Poolo, Lizwi Vilakazi, Warren Masemola, Dean Fourie, Anthony Oseyemi, Brendon Daniels and Jerry Mofokeng. Introducing Toka Mtabane, Vuyo Novokoza, Ntsika Tiyo, Sibusiso Bottoman, Abongile Sithole, and Qhawe Soroshi.

A Season In France is from acclaimed director Mahamat Saleh Haroun who won the Cannes Jury Prize for A Screaming Man in 2010. Starring Sandrine Bonnaire and Eric Ebouaney, the film is about a refugee’s desperate experience in France as his application for asylum is denied.

Back in his home town of Bangui, Abbas (Eriq Ebouaney) was a respected scholar. He taught French, while his brother Etienne (Bibi Tanga) taught philosophy. Now, in Paris where they hope to gain asylum, Abbas works for a produce vendor, while Etienne works security. Abbas’ wife was murdered when the family fled the Central African Republic’s civil war, and Abbas often wakes from nightmares calling her name. He suppresses his trauma for the sake of his children, but the fear and anger inside him manifests itself in his relationship with Carole (Sandrine Bonnaire, also at the Festival in Catch the Wind), a matter-of-fact woman trying to begin a new life with him.

It’s the first film of this type about a refugee’s experience told by an African voice. Mahamat himself is a refugee from Chad who now lives in France.


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