Front row

The indie flicks to watch at this year’s 40th Toronto International Film Festival
By Joey Levenson | Film+TV | 6 September 2016

Top image: Still, ‘Hello Destroyer’ (2016), dir. Kevan Funk

With film festival season in full swing, the 40th annual Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) kicks off on the 8th of September; a guaranteed hotspot for the most lauded international and indie flicks around. For the majority of the films being screened, this will be their North American premiere before being distributed to a screen somewhere near you. With a festival line-up that champions and celebrates the multiplicity of filmmaking, there is plenty of new talent on offer. Between true-life crime documentaries, rampant ghost-witches, Arctic love stories, and a Floridan odyssey, we’ve got you covered.

Below, we’ve rounded up the films previewing at TIFF that we think are the must-sees for the forthcoming year.

1. Moonlight (2016), dir. Barry Jenkins

Moonlight chronicles the life of young Chiron growing up in 1980’s Miami to present day, dealing with the conflict of violence, class, race, and his own repressed sexuality — all at once. Needless to say, it’s stark and dissecting look at masculinity and intersection with race is something that is rare to come across in today’s industry. The film has picked out three different (and appropriately unknown) actors to portray Chiron in the different stages of his life as he grows throughout the film, and each actor is likely to evoke some form of catharsis in us all. As the trailer shows, the film has some epic cinematography coupled nicely with powerful imagery.

Now, if all of the above still hasn’t got you convinced that this is going to be pretty major, then take it from the big guns in Hollywood: A24, the production company behind some of last year’s best films RoomThe Witch, and Green Room, have acquired the distribution rights, with Brad Pitt’s Plan B Entertainment (the team behind 12 Years A Slave) also on board to produce.

2. The Handmaiden (2016), dir. Park Chan-wook

Shifting from the murky waters of masculinity to the crux of femininity, critically-acclaimed South Korean director Park Chan-wook is back and he brings with him a stunning new film, The Handmaiden. Having already made the early festival circuits at the likes of Cannes – where it grew an insane amount of buzz upon competing for the Palme D’or – the South Korean flick chronicles a crook-turned-maid who falls for the vulnerable heiress she had originally schemed to swindle. What follows is a tale of deceit, sexuality, and mystery, as the two women unravel one another in the world of South Korea’s most elite.

Described as “audacious, visually sumptuous, and highly erotic”, this film will certainly be one to talk about. Other than that, there’s not much more to we can say to win you over that the trailer doesn’t already do. Let’s just say for film buffs and casual fans alike, Chan-wook is likely to captivate your screens once again with the most daring of stories.

3. Amanda Knox (2016), dir. Brian McGinn, Rod Blackhurst

Still, Amanda Knox (2016), Courtesy of Netflix, Inc.

Known to be one of the most scandalous crimes of the past decade, the horrific murder of a British exchange student in Italy at first gripped the nation, then the world, when American student Amanda Knox and her Italian boyfriend were charged with the crime. As the trial continued to develop, and the world patiently anticipated the next twists and turns, it became clear that there was never going to be a satisfactory outcome. We’ve heard the story, but only through the police statements, the press releases, the Oprah interviews.

Up until now, that is. Already being described as “gripping and atmospheric”, the Netflix Original documentary Amanda Knox tells the story straight from the woman herself. After being acquitted for the crime she had previously been locked up for, Knox faded from the public limelight. Now, we’re bound to get an insight into the fucked up turmoil of this crime, and what happened during those many years Knox spent fighting her case.

4. Two Lovers and a Bear (2016), dir. Kim Nguyen

Another one riding the buzz wave from it’s Cannes premiere, Two Lovers and a Bear looks like a triumph from Canadian director Kim Nguyen. Swapping out the earthy elements of his stunning debut film War Witch, Nguyen implements the forces of ice, snow and water in this obscure love story. The film’s quite literally set in the North Pole, where two lovers try to accomplish a relationship amidst one of the harshest environments known to man, it’s a heart warming tale amidst the coldest of climates.

The film packs a tiny, yet stellar, cast of Dane Dehaan and Tatiana Maslany (Orphan Black fanboys, rejoice). Whilst not much has been released about the plot or the characters involved, the insanely picturesque visuals and prior reviews make it one to watch as it glides through the film festival circuit this year. Plus, we think the motif of bears seems to be a growing trend ever since The Revenant‘s grizzly break-out star.

5. The Bad Batch (2016), dir. Ana Lily Amirpour

Still, The Bad Batch (2016), Courtesy of Annapurna International.

After Ana Lily Amirpour’s brilliant Persian-American vampire piece A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, everyone was waiting with baited breath to see what the director would do next. Now, her next film has arrived, and it looks mental. Get your teeth stuck into this. The plot’s been described as a savage dystopian fairytale set in a Texas wasteland where a community of cannibals are just trying to make ends meat (get it?). And naturally, out comes a dysfunctional love story. 

Along with Amirpour’s budding talent, the film brings an eclectic cast. Resident 90’s action hero Keanu Reeves, funny man Jim Carey, social media starlet Suki Waterhouse, and Game of Thrones warlord Jason Momoa are just part of this seemingly random— albeit, brilliant— cast. The film made it’s international premiere at the Venice Film Festival, but will be hoping to make it’s mark on North American audiences at TIFF.

6. Hello Destroyer (2016), dir. Kevan Funk

Originally making the festival rounds as a short back in 2014, Hello Destroyer promises to be “timely, uncompromising and ultimately devastating”. The film depicts a rising Canadian ice hockey star, who indadvertedly finds himself submerged in the cutthroat world of his sport, losing his sense of morality and focus the further he plays in to the hands of his cliché-ridden coach. Whilst the synopsis may sound familiar for most sport-flicks, this film’s daring commentary, refreshing filmmaking, and critical buzz make us pretty excited about it.

TIFF are also pretty excited about this, too. Not only does it feature a Canadian director’s feature-length debut, but the protagonist is played by the winner of the festival’s rising star award, Jared Abrahamson (as seen on Fear of the Walking Dead). Fauk’s use of claustrophobic close-ups in turn with fast-paced sports jargon has this film set to be the Whiplash-meets-The Mighty Ducks flick you never knew you wanted ’til now. Above, you can check out the original 2014 short film.

7. It's Only The End Of The World (2016), dir. Xavier Dolan

No must-see list for a film festival would be complete without Xavier Dolan. Continuing the trend of Canadian directors with films lauded by Cannes, Dolan brings It’s Only The End Of The World to TIFF for it’s North American debut. The Canadian-French film follows Louis, a terminally ill writer, as he returns home after twelve years of absence to announce his impending death to his family. No doubt that Dolan’s signature themes of dysfunctional motherhood and subverted masculinity will be at play here.

Filling up the film’s cast are giants from French cinema; including Dolan’s new muse Marion Cotillard, the prolific Vincent Cassel, Lea Seydoux, and protagonist Gaspard Ulliel. Each member is bound to bring something unique to Dolan’s world of hazy Quebecois suburbs. This film doesn’t need much more hype than it already has, so just see it, and thank us after.

8. Buster's Mal Heart

Still, Buster’s Mal Heart (2016), Courtesy of Snowfort Pictures.

After the paramount success of Mr. Robot, it’s no surprise that people are now willing to watch pretty much anything with Rami Malek’s name attached to it. And I’m sure plenty of people will have their eye on this unique new indie flick. Some parts fantasy, some parts mystery, and some parts love story, Buster’s Mal Heart is about a troubled man on the run recalling the mysterious events that brought him to his present fugitive state, realising he inhabits the body of two very different people across the globe.

Known to be enigmatic, elliptical and moving, this second feature from director Sarah Adina Smith continues to push forward the growing landscape for female directors in film. The film utilises simplistic locations to create something magical, merging elements such as lighting, framing, and pacing to guide us through the journey of Malek’s character. You can read an engaging discussion with Adina Smith on how she shot the film here.

9. Barry (2016), dir. Vikram Gandhi

Still, Barry (2016), Courtesy of Black Bear Pictures & Cinetic Media.

Not much is known about this Barack Obama indie biopic, other than it follows the soon-to-be-former President’s college days at Columbia University in New York City. Whilst details are scarce, we’re pretty excited for several reasons. The first being that it’s a biopic, the second being that it’s about Obama, and third being that it’s set in 1980’s New York. Think The Get Down only less singing, more politics.

The cast looks very promising, rounding up all your favourite break-out stars from last year’s best films; including The Witch’s Anya Taylor Joy, Straight Outta Compton‘s Jason Mitchell and Boyhood’s Ellar Coltrane. Playing the trailblazing politician is newcomer Devon Terrell, who previously worked on an unaired pilot for HBO by 12 Years A Slave director Steve McQueen. When the POTUS exits the office in January, he’ll be sorely missed — but thankfully this film will be around to keep his legacy, and the ’80s, alive.

10. Blair Witch (2016), dir. Adam Wingard

Just over seventeen years ago, audiences across the globe were shaken to their core when The Blair Witch Project revitalised the Horror genre for years to come. Now, the legacy continues in it’s sequel Blair Witch. Using a guerilla marketing strategy, no one saw this sequel coming until the trailer was dropped out of the blue and left for all of us to devour. From the writers of critically acclaimed horror You’re Next and thriller The Guest, this film is set to remind us why we cemented The Blair Witch Project as a cult classic in the first place.

The film maintains the famous hand-held camera style of shooting, and by the looks of the trailer, it’s set to take place in the same set of woods the original explorers once perished in. Expect lots and lots of nastiness from the Blair Witch herself. As the saying goes “once bitten, twice shy”, but it certainly doesn’t seem like these kids are any more shy this time around.

11. The Voyage of Time (2016), dir. Terrence Malick

As already mentioned by us, Terrence Malick’s documentary debut The Voyage of Time is set to be groundbreaking. The documentary chronicles the vast expanse of our Earth and it’s incredible history, all the way from the big bang, to present, to a proposed future. It includes a wide range of grand orchestral music, as well as creatively infused CGI and real-life shots of our Earth which took over ten years to create.

And as if all this isn’t enough, Malick has announced the film will be released in two versions, because this is Malick, and nothing is ever enough. The first version will be a 40-minute Brad Pitt narrated IMAX exclusive, and the second version will be a 90-minute Cate Blanchett narrated general release. Judging by the breathtaking trailer and ten-year production, there’s no doubt both versions will be one to watch, and will have everyone thinking about for years to come.


The Toronto International Film Festivals runs from 8 – 18th September. If you’re planning on being in the Toronto area around that time, you can purchase your tickets here.


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