Tyneside Cinema reports back from Toronto International Film Festival 2017 Written by Andrew Simpson

Andrew Simpson is the Director of Film Programming for the Tyneside Cinema in Newcastle, and attended the Toronto Film Festival in 2017 with the support of Film Hub North. You can follow him on Twitter at @Andrew_Simpson_.  

Film festivals are strange beasts. Ostensibly the place to discover the newest cinematic masterpieces - from an established auteur’s latest to the emerging filmmakers of tomorrow – the experience of visiting them is so often obstructive to that ambition. Queues, badge hierarches, having to talk your way in without a ticket, the pressure to offer an immediate opinion following a screening… festivals can often feel about everything but championing great art, especially when their sheer size leaves you reeling at the possibility of prioritising. It’s into this sense of foreboding that I arrive in Toronto for the first time, jazzed by the colossal list of exciting new films we might bring to the Tyneside, but wary of the same old stresses, the inevitable bun fight…

But it never arrives. Instead, what you get at TIFF is something relaxed, well organised, and set up for the purpose of the most important thing: watching films. Bouncing around in the multiplex colossus that is the Scotiabank (“If you thought the new Haneke was bleak, just wait until the escalator breaks!”), 40 films fly by in eight days, and with it comes a selection of films that seem to mirror our present moment, both bleak and hopeful, but of riveting quality.

The treat that this festival viewing promised audiences has already been fulfilled, in part. Having failed to catch Call Me By Your Name and The Florida Project before, this was a chance to confirm their status as two of the year’s most moving, perfect films, reflected by their presence in the current awards running, and the great reaction to the films from audiences, not least our own in Newcastle. And so it proved to be when we screened those films in the Autumn.

That great run continued with films like The Disaster Artist; Joachim Trier’s Bergman-esque chiller Thelma, and the crowd-pleasing Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool. Unlike a Blade Runner or a Murder on the Orient Express, these are the films that festivals can jumpstart, as we (exhibitors) can see that they will resonate, and find their audience, if we give them the screen space to thrive.

It’s been an enormous pleasure to see many of these films land with the public as I hoped they would, not least as this has all come in my first few months in the job here in Newcastle. And it was of course a perfect opportunity to catch some of this season’s most talked about (and award laden) films, not least Guillermo del Toro’s sublime anti-fascist fairy tale The Shape Of Water, which arrived on our screens this week. A rapturous story of love between two outcasts, del Toro houses a plea for acceptance and tolerance inside a Cold War-America wracked with anger and illiberal persecution (ring any bells?), as well as paying tribute to the monster movies of his youth. It deserves all the awards come Oscar-time, though it will have to duke it our with the likes of Joe Wright’s Darkest Hour and Martin McDonagh’s Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, both of which also screened at TIFF and have been huge hits on their arrival in the UK, with Three Billboards boasting 8,000 admissions and counting at the Tyneside.

The above also included a glut of films where women are the fore, including Greta Gerwig’s amazing directorial debut Ladybird, which (deservedly) felt like the buzz film of the festival; I, Tonya, which features an unbelievable performance from Margo Robbie as Tonya Harding; and Aaron Sorkin’s terrifically fun directorial debut Molly’s Game, led with aplomb by Jessica Chastain. All the best performances, (unsurprisingly) are from women this year, and perhaps this is a shift towards proper leading roles, something especially vital in the current climate, and approximately 100 years overdue.

When you factor in the scorching expose’s of colonial misdeeds that are Zama and Sweet Country (both still to be released in the UK, so watch out for them); really strong British debut features in Beast and Apostasy; and some other fantastic films somehow still without distribution - the brilliant latest from permanent renegade Paul Schrader; and the bullet-ridden formalist orgasm of Let The Corpses Tan, both spring to mind - TIFF presented a portrait of cinema in rude health. Audiences are turning out in droves for these excellent films, and the fact that Film Hub North (a contributor towards my TIFF trip) are helping programmers and others make these journeys, discover these films, make connections, and enrich our audiences, shows that we’re all moving in the right direction.