From High-Art Sci-Fi to Mind-Bending Documentaries, Here Are 5 TIFF Must-Sees

Published on September 5, 2018 · Last updated July 28, 2020
(Universal Pictures)

Starting on Thursday, September 6 and running through September 16, the globally treasured Toronto International Film Festival is back for its 43rd year. TIFF is a cultural institution for Hogtown, screening hundreds of movies from all over the world and welcoming an estimated 480,000 attendees. The city hums with celebrity sightings and nonstop events for ten days.

Pair a strain with your favorite movie.The whole thing can be a bit overwhelming—just reading through the listings of featured films is enough to make your head spin! I got you covered. Here is a list of some of the most intriguing titles at TIFF, for tokers.

If Beale Street Could Talk

(Annapurna Pictures)

Moonlight is one of my favourite films of the last decade—writer/director Berry Jenkins created a truly magical piece of art. At its core, Moonlight is a heart-melting coming-of-age tale, but it’s also a vehicle for so much more, tackling complex issues like homophobia and toxic masculinity in present-day America. It’s heavy, but at certain moments it captures a sense of hope and joy that is unrivaled in film. Jenkin’s follow-up feature promises to deliver on that same multi-layered front. Tackling a novel by one of America’s greatest thinkers and writers, James Baldwin, Jenkins feels like the perfect fit to nail the tone of If Beale Street Could Talk: a tragic love story set in Harlem in the early 1970s starring Kiki Layne, Regina King, and Scarborough-born Stephan James. Tre’vell Anderson, reporter with the Los Angeles Times, and David Ehrlich, Senior Film Critic at IndieWire both put If Beale Street Could Talk at the top of their What I’m Watching at TIFF list and I couldn’t agree more.

If Beale Street Could Talk plays TIFF on September 9 and 10 as part of the Special Presentations programme.

High Life

(Pandora Films)

This sci-fi flick from acclaimed director Claire Denis sounds incredible. Written by novelist Nick Laired, Geoff Cox, and Denis’ longtime collaborator Jean-Pol Fargeau, High Life stars Robert Pattinson, Juliette Binoche, Mia Goth, and André Benjamin (aka André 3000) as criminals on a spaceship travelling toward a black hole. Beyond that is mystery—I couldn’t even find a trailer, just a single still shot of Pattison in a spacesuit—but from what I gather High Life promises to be a shocking, jolting ride into space, conducted by a master of Franch cinema making her first film in English.

High Life plays TIFF on September 9, 11, and 14 as part of the Gala Presentations programme.


(Universal Pictures)

For those of us who love pop culture as a zeitgeist-capturing mechanism, the horror genre is a treasure trove of case studies, and no movie captures the spirit of the genre for me like the original Halloween. (Full disclosure: I am kind of obsessed with John Carpenter’s Halloween, especially the scene where Laurie gets baked with her friend Annie who also happens to be the sheriff’s daughter. But I digress.) 40 years after the original, the new 2018 Halloween finds John Carpenter back as a consultant, producer, and composer, and picks up where the original left off—all interim sequels and remakes in the franchise will be ignored. If that’s not reason enough to hyperventilate, the new sequel is produced by the same team that brought us the genius of Get Out, and producer Jason Blum has hinted that the new Halloween will deal with post-traumatic stress disorder and generational trauma coming to a head after 40 years. I already have chills.

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Halloween plays TIFF Saturday, September 8 as part of the Midnight Madness programme.


(Mongrel Media)

Every stoner loves a good documentary, especially if it comes with a stirring social message or good visual trip. This doc has both. Celebrated Canadian photographer Edward Burtynsky’s work involves large-scale, abstract shots of industrial sites around the world—and leaves the viewer to imagine the impact it must be having on the earth. During a recent visit to the Art Gallery of Hamilton, I was lucky enough to catch a Burtynsky exhibit and was floored. Gorgeous to look at but devasting to think about, his photographs are captivating and haunting and I cannot wait to see them come alive. Filmmakers Jennifer Baichwal and Nicholas de Pencier have teamed up with Burtynsky twice before, with both 2006’s Manufactured Landscapes and 2013’s Watermark garnering acclaim, and this third project should be no different.

ANTHROPOCENE: The Human Epoch plays TIFF September 6, 7, 11 and 12 as part of the Special Presentations programme.

Edge of the Knife

(Niijang Xyaalas Productions LTD)

I can’t overstate how cool and important this film’s existence is and I cannot wait to watch it. Co-directed by Haida filmmaker Gwaai Edenshaw and Tsilhqot’in filmmaker Helen Haig-Brown in collaboration Canada’s first Inuit independent production company, Edge of the Knife is a retelling of a Haida legend about revenge and death in the 19th century. The coolest part? The story is told through a Haida cast and with the Haida language—which currently less than 30 people speak fluently. Director Helen Haig-Brown has described the filmmaking process as being truly collaborative and unobtrusive. I cannot wait to see the results.

Edge of the Knife plays TIFF on September 6, 7, 10, 11, and 13 as part of the Discovery programme

A Star is Born

(Warner Bros. Pictures)

Lady Gaga—aka Mary Jane Holland herself—stars in Hollywood’s fourth (!) remake of this classic tale, brought to the screen by Bradley Cooper in his directorial debut. Cooper stars as country singer Jackson Maine, who “lives half his life on tour and the other half at the bottom of a bottle” until he meets Gaga’s Ally and “they catch in each other a glimpse of the pain that drives them both.” This one is sure to have long lines, and yes, Lady Gaga will be in Toronto for the premiere. (Too bad the cannabis enthusiast is just a little over a month away from October 17’s legal weed festival.) I have trepidations about A Star is Born—it’s literally been done before THREE TIMES—but critics who’ve seen it are raving and Gaga is already getting Oscar buzz so here’s hoping the fourth time’s a charm.

A Star is Born plays TIFF on September 9, 10, and 14 as part of the Gala Presentations programme.

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Sarah Hanlon
Sarah Hanlon
Sarah Hanlon is a communications and culture grad from the University of Calgary with minor in Women’s Studies. After completing a semester abroad at the University of New Orleans, Sarah moved to Toronto to break into the media world, and in 2015, she won Big Brother Canada. Sarah currently lives in Hamilton, Ontario with her dogs Annie and Sally and her partner Scott.
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