TIFF 2021: A curtain raiser

The Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) is set to be back in all its glory this year. The 46th edition of the festival, scheduled to be held from September 9 to 18, 2021 will again be held in a hybrid form; with both physical and digital screenings due to the ongoing pandemic. The lineup includes […]

The Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) is set to be back in all its glory this year. The 46th edition of the festival, scheduled to be held from September 9 to 18, 2021 will again be held in a hybrid form; with both physical and digital screenings due to the ongoing pandemic. The lineup includes over 100 films, which means that it is comparatively smaller than the pre-pandemic TIFFs; but it’s significantly better than last year’s lineup when only 50 films were screened.

The opening film this year would be Stephen Chbosky’s ‘Dear Evan Hansen’—an adaptation of Benj Pasek and Justin Paul’s 2015 stage musical of the same name. The film will have its world premiere at the 2021 TIFF on September 9, 2021 as its opening Night Gala Presentation. The festival’s closing film will be the legendary Chinese filmmaker Zhang Yimou’s ‘One Second,’ the director of films like: ‘Raise the Red Lantern,’ ‘Hero,’ ‘House of Flying Daggers,’ and ‘Shadow,’

Denis Villeneuve’s ‘Dune’, Asghar Farhadi’s ‘A Hero’, and Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s ‘Memoria’ in the ‘Special Events’ segment are among the festival’s biggest crowd pullers. But the festival has so much more to offer. And we must take a look at some of the other major attractions this year.


This year at TIFF, everyone will have their eyes on Kenneth Branagh whose most personal film till date ‘Belfast’ will be screened as part of the Gala presentations. The Academy Award-nominated British writer, director, and actor will join the festival as part of ‘In Conversation With…’ series to discuss his journey, the charm of adapting Shakespeare’s plays for the big screen, and the story behind the making of ‘Belfast’.

Walt Becker’s ‘Clifford the Big Red Dog’ will also have its world premiere as part of the Gala presentations. The segment will also screen Will Sharpe’s ‘The Electrical Life of Louis Wain’ (Canadian Premiere), Alison Klayman’s ‘Jagged’ (World Premiere), Edgar Wright’s highly anticipated film ‘Last Night in Soho’ (North American Premiere), Mélanie Laurent’s ‘The Mad Women’s Ball’ (World Premiere), and Barry Levinson’s post World War II saga ‘The Survivor’ (World Premiere), which stars Ben Foster in the role of a boxer—haunted by the memories and his guilt, having fought fellow prisoners in the concentration camps to survive—who attempts to use high-profile fights against boxing legends like Rocky Marciano as a way to find his first love again.


A major attraction of this segment is English filmmaker Terence Davies’ ‘Benediction’ (World Premiere), which explores the turbulent life of First World War poet, Siegfried Sassoon—a complex man who survived the horrors of fighting in World War I and was decorated for his bravery but who became a vocal critic of the government’s continuation of the war when he returned from service. Sassoon’s poetry was inspired by his experiences on the Western Front and he became one of the leading war poets of the era.

Another important film to look out for in this segment is Michael McGowan’s ‘All My Puny Seasons’ (World Premiere) starring Alison Pill and Sarah Gadon. Based on Miriam Toews’ internationally acclaimed bestselling novel of the same name, the film follows the story of two loving sisters: one a gifted pianist (essayed by Gadon) obsessed with ending her life, the other a struggling writer (portrayed by Pill) who, in wrestling with this decision, makes profound discoveries about herself.

The segment will also screen Mia Hansen-Love’s ‘Bergman Island’ (International Premiere), Eric Warin and Tahir Rana’s ‘Charlotte’ (World Premiere), Michael Pearce’s ‘Encounter’ (International Premiere), Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s ‘Drive My Car’ (North American Premiere), Bent Hamer’s ‘The Middle Man’ (World Premiere), Theodore Melfi’s ‘The Starling’ (World Premiere), Antoine Fuqua’s ‘The Guilty’ (World Premiere), and Joachim Trier’s ‘The Worst Person In The World’ (North American Premiere), among others.


Finnish filmmaker Juho Kuosmanen’s ‘Compartment No. 6’ which won the Grand Prix at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival is a major attraction of this segment. The film follows a young Finnish woman who escapes an enigmatic love affair in Moscow by boarding a train to the Arctic port of Murmansk. Some other films to watch out for in this segment include Sébastien Pilote’s ‘Maria Chapdelaine’, Alexandre Moratto’s ‘7 Prisoners’, Mounia Aki’s ‘Costa Brava, Lebanon’, Manuel Martín Cuenca’s ‘The Daughter’, Clint Bentley’s ‘Jockey’, Juanjo Giménez’ ‘Out of Sync’, Kira Kovalenko’s ‘Unclenching the Fists’,e Steve Pink’s ‘The Wheel’, and Blaine Thurier’s ‘Kicking Blood’—an ultra-modern spin on the vampire genre which evokes cult-horror figures like George A. Romero and Stuart Gordon.


Arsalan Amiri’s ‘Zalava’, set in 1978, follows the inhabitants of a small village in Iran called Zalava who claim there is a demon among them. The film is a part of the ‘Midnight Madness’ segment which also features Kate Dolan’s ‘You Are Not My Mother’. Ivan Grbovic’s ‘Drunken Birds’ is another interesting film to watch out for, along with Darin J. Sallam’s ‘Farha’, Javier Andrade’s ‘Lo Invisible’, and Haya Waseem’s brilliant film ‘Quickening’, starring Arooj Azeem, Ashir Azeem, and Bushra Ashir Azeem, which explores the life of a young woman of colour navigating love, heartbreak, and family turmoil.

Mohammed Abugeth and Daniel Carsenty’s documentary film ‘The Devil’s Drivers’ (World Premiere) presents an intimate and harrowing portrait of a group of smugglers risking everything on high-speed trips to help Palestinian workers cross the border into Israel every day for work. Stefan Forbes’ ‘Hold Your Fire’ takes us to the beginning of the longest hostage siege in NYPD history when four young African-American men stealing guns for self-defense in Brooklyn were cornered by the NYPD in the year 1973. The documentary uncovers what really happened in this landmark event which has the potential to revolutionize American policing. Gian Cassini’s captivating documentary ‘Comala’ follows the director on his personal journey in search of his absent father, discovering the ghosts of Mexico’s failed war on drugs along the way.

Agustina San Martín’s ‘To Kill the Beast’ follows the 17-year-old Emilia who arrives in a religious town on the border between Argentina and Brazil, looking for her long-lost brother. She stays in the jungle at her aunt’s hostel where, according to rumors, a dangerous beast appeared a week ago. This beast, people claim, is the spirit of an evil man that takes the shape of different animals.

Created and executive produced by Halaifonua Finau and Tom Hern, The Panthers, one of only four series to be shown in the TIFF Primetime Program, follows Will Ilolahia, who along with a group of young street gangsters and university students, form The Polynesian Panthers (which celebrated their 50th anniversary this year) in the 1970s.

TIFF 2021 also has a segment titled ‘Shot Cuts’ dedicated to short films. Also, ‘TIFF Rewind’ will screen classics like ‘The Training Day’ and ‘Eastern Promises.’

Zacharias Kunuk’s ‘Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner’ will be screened as part of ‘TIFF Cinemathèque’. And, just like last year, the ‘Industry Selects’ program will screen films only for industry professionals, acting as a film market owing to the continued COVID-19 pandemic which has severely impacted the ability of filmmakers and critics to travel to international film festivals.