Tom at TIFF: A Preview of the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival

Toronto International Film Festival
Posted at 6:44 PM, Sep 09, 2021
and last updated 2023-03-11 14:51:31-05

Tom Santilli is a professional film critic, TV personality, host and the Executive Producer of Movie Show Plus.

The Toronto International Film Festival - or TIFF - is set to begin today, September 9th, 2021, running through September 18th, 2021. It's one of the biggest film festivals of each and every year and one of the most important: It's early September date usually is what kicks off what is known as "awards season" for the film/movie industry.

Film Critic Tom Santilli (me!) will be bringing you the highlights from TIFF all week long with this "Tom at TIFF" series. If you don't know much about TIFF or are interested in what's going on at this year's festival, you've come to the right place!

History Of TIFF.

The Toronto International Film Festival is one of the world's biggest, bringing on average around a half-million people annually. They list their mission as "to transform the way people see the world through film." In addition to several screenings of movies big and small, foreign and domestic, the Festival also includes lectures, workshops and its popular "In Conversation With..." series which usually consists of a lengthy in-depth interview with some of the best and brightest stars in Hollywood.

Some of the biggest films of the past have premiered at TIFF, like "American Beauty," "Ray," "127 Hours," "Black Swan" and "Silver Linings Playbook." That last film won TIFF's top honor, the People's Choice Award, which is not a juried prize but given by rankings from the movie-goers at TIFF.

In 2020 due to the pandemic, TIFF was forced to transform - like many other film festivals - to a digital-screening platform instead of hosting their films in person. In 2021, TIFF offers both an in-person experience for fully vaccinated critics, industry and audience members, as well as a digital platform, where critics (and even fans) can experience the festival from the comforts of their home.

2021 TIFF Controversy.

The biggest buzz leading up to TIFF was unfortunately not good news for those critics and fans who have chosen to attend the festival digitally. That's because it was announced that many of TIFF's largest and most highly-anticipated films were NOT going to be available to see on the digital platform, instead forcing those that wanted to attend these films to do so in person in Toronto. The problem was that even if a critic/fan WANTED to brave the pandemic and attend, this news was announced so late in the game that it made it logistically near-impossible to do so.

In addition, some films that HAVE been made available digitally have been geo-blocked...that means that American audiences cannot experience them online.

Because I'm attending TIFF this year digitally and not in-person, that means many of the films were not made available to me. The result is that many of the most highly-regarded films are unfortunately not going to be covered. Here is a partial list of films NOT available on the TIFF Digital Screening platform or that are geo-blocked in America:

  • "Dune"
  • "A Hero"
  • "Dear Evan Hansen"
  • "Last Night in Soho"
  • "Spencer"
  • "Titane"
  • "The Worst Person in the World"
  • "The Power of the Dog"
  • "Belfast"

"Dune" is perhaps the biggest commercial film that will not be available to those not physically in Toronto. But other films like "Belfast," "The Power of the Dog," "Dear Evan Hansen" and "Spencer" are all creating Oscar buzz after their appearances at other recent festivals like Telluride.

So What IS Being Shown?

Don't fear: Even though many of the high-profile films are not going to be covered in this series, there are still scores of other options, documentaries and star-studded movies to choose from. In fact, some of these "smaller" films actually need the exposure and spotlight much more than a movie with a built-in blockbuster fan-base like "Dune."

Some films I'm excited to catch include "Violet," the directorial debut from Justine Bateman...Antoine Fuqua's "The Guilty" starring Jake Gyllenhaal..."The Electric Life of Louis Wain" starring Benedict Cumberbatch..."The Starling," a film by Theodore Melfi starring Melissa McCarthy and Kevin Kline...the science-fiction film "Broadcast Signal Intrusion"..."Sundown" starring Tim Roth...a Western called "Old Henry" starring Tim Blake Nelson...a vampire thriller called "Kicking Blood"...the comedy "Silent Night" starring Keira Knightley and Lily-Rose Depp...and the Barry Levinson film "The Survivor" starring Ben Foster.

On the documentary side of things (a genre I love), there is the Alanis Morissette doc "Jagged"..."Memory Box: Echoes of 9/11"...a doc on singer Dionne Warwick and one on legendary chef Julia Child..."Attica," about the famous prison riot...and perhaps the most curious of all, an animated documentary (?) called "Flee."

Since it's not possible to cover all of TIFF (there are simply too many films to choose from), I've hand-selected around 20 films that I plan to see as part of my TIFF coverage this coming week. Stay tuned to more of my coverage from TIFF between now and September 18th for highlights of films and performances, as well as some surprises and/or special interviews along the way!

How To Watch TIFF Online: If you can't attend in-person in Toronto this week, there are ways for you to purchase digital screenings online, or even attend special events like the "In Conversation With..." series. For more information on tickets, click here.

Check out the video below on "How To Festival" at this year's TIFF 2021 and be sure to follow Tom Santilli on Twitter for all the latest on TIFF (#TIFF2021).