Tiff 2019 line up: Some big hitting premieres, plenty of women, but lack of Middle Eastern presence

Not a single film from the Mena region features among the screenings announced so far

Roman Griffin Davis, Taika Waititi and Scarlett Johansson in a scene from 'Jojo Rabbit'.
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The first slate of films for this year’s Toronto International Film Festival have been announced, and it’s looking like a strong year for the festival.

Toronto isn't always as premiere-laden as some of its competitors, coming as it does fairly late in the year, this edition from September 5-15, and consequently after all the other major festivals including Sundance, Cannes, Venice and the short but increasingly significant Telluride.

That said, however, the festival has still managed to pull an impressive line-up of firsts out of the bag for this year's event, starting with the North American premiere of Joaquim Phoenix-starring Batman spin off Joker. The film, written and directed by R-rated comedy specialist Todd Phillips (The Hangover, Borat), produced by Martin Scorsese and also starring Robert De Niro, looks set to be a slightly deeper, darker affair than traditional comic book fare, and the high profile festival premiere suggests Warner Bros may be looking to awards panel recognition just as much as comic fan adulation.

Rian Johnson's Last Jedi follow up will also take a bow at Tiff, and his new film couldn't be further removed from Johnson's 2017 Star Wars outing. Knives Out is a modern-day take on the classic whodunit them, with an all-star cast led by Daniel Craig's master detective Benoit Blanc, who will investigate suspects including Chris Evans, Christopher Plummer, Jamie Lee Curtis and Don Johnson.

The third big ticket premiere at Tiff is probably What We Do in the Shadows and Thor: Ragnorok director Taika Waititi's satire Jojo Rabbit, starring Scarlett Johansson as an anti-Nazi mother in 1940s Germany. The film sees Waititi returning to his indie roots before heading back to Marvel for Thor: Love and Thunder and he also co-stars as Johansson's young son's imaginary friend, Adolf Hitler.

There'll also be premieres for Craig Brewer's Blaxploitation biopic Dolemite is My Name, with an impressive cast led by Eddie Murphy, Wesley Snipes and Chris Rock, and Adam Sandler in the crime comedy Uncut Gems.

Tiff scores well for inclusivity this year – the festival has made a five-year commitment to increase women's participation in cinema, and this year's festival features a host of big-hitting female-directed movies including closing film Radioactive, Marjane Satrapi's biopic of Marie Curie starring Rosamund Pike; Kasi Lemmons' Harriet, starring Cynthia Erivo as Harriet Tubman, who led hundreds of American slaves to freedom on the Underground Railroad; Hustlers, Lorene Scafaria's true story of dancers who ripped off Wall Street brokers, and Jill Culton's animated Abominable.

For all the female representation, and big ticket films with black leads such as Dolemite is My Name and Harriet, it is noteworthy that, so far at least, not a single film from the Middle East appears among this year's line-up. The full programme is not expected to be complete until at least August 20, so there is time yet, but so far Tiff scores a big zero for films from either the Middle East or North Africa.

Lebanese director Oualid Mouaness told The National earlier this month that his debut feature, 1982, starring Nadine Labaki, could open at Toronto, but in the meantime the closest we have is Shonali Bose's Indian indie The Sky is Pink. The Priyanka Chopra starrer will debut at Tiff, and is so far the only Indian movie on the schedule.

We'll reserve judgement until the full programme is announced as Tiff traditionally has fairly solid form when it comes to screening films from around the world, including less well-known markets. Last year alone saw films including Labaki's Oscar-nominated Capernaum,  Soudade Kadaan's award-winning Syrian drama The Day I Lost My Shadow, Ahmed Abdalla's UAE-co-produced EXT. Night and the Palestinian drama Screwdriver among 15 films with links to the region that screened at the festival.

Tiff will open on Thursday September 5 with Daniel Roher's rockumentary Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and The Band, and close on Sunday September 15 with Satrapi's Marie Curie biopic.

Tiff line up so far:


  • Opening night: Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and The Band, directed by Daniel Roher
  • Closing night: Radioactive, directed by Marjane Satrapi
  • A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, directed by Marielle Heller
  • Abominable, directed by Jill Culton
  • American Woman, directed by Semi Chellas
  • Blackbird, directed by  Roger Michell
  • Clemency, directed by Chinonye Chukwu
  • Ford v Ferrari, directed by James Mangold
  • Harriet, directed by Kasi Lemmons
  • Hustlers, directed by Lorene Scafaria
  • Joker, directed by Todd Phillips
  • Just Mercy, directed by Destin Daniel Cretton
  • Ordinary Love, directed by Lisa Barros D'Sa, Glenn Leyburn
  • The Goldfinch, directed by John Crowley
  • The Sky Is Pink, directed by Shonali Bose
  • The Song of Names, directed by Francois Girard
  • True History of the Kelly Gang, directed by Justin Kurzel
  • Western Stars, directed by Thom Zimny, Bruce Springsteen

Special presentations

  • A Herdade, directed by Tiago Guedes
  • Bad Education, directed by Cory Finley
  • Coming Home Again, directed by Wayne Wang
  • Dolemite is My Name, directed by Craig Brewer
  • Ema, directed by Pablo Larraín
  • Endings, Beginnings, directed by Drake Doremus
  • Frankie, directed by Ira Sachs
  • Greed, directed by Michael Winterbottom
  • Guest of Honour, directed by Atom Egoyan
  • Heroic Losers, directed by Sebastian Borensztein
  • Honey Boy, directed by Alma Har'el
  • Hope Gap, directed by William Nicholson
  • How to Build a Girl, directed by Coky Giedroyc
  • I Am Woman, directed by Unjoo Moon
  • Jojo Rabbit, directed by Taika Waititi
  • Judy, directed by Rupert Goold
  • Knives Out, directed by Rian Johnson
  • La Belle Époque, directed by Nicolas Bedos
  • Marriage Story, directed by Noah Baumbach
  • Military Wives, directed by Peter Cattaneo
  • Motherless Brooklyn, directed by Edward Norton
  • No. 7 Cherry Lane, directed by Yonfan
  • Pain and Glory, directed by Pedro Almodóvar
  • Parasite, directed by Bong Joon-ho
  • Pelican Blood, directed by Katrin Gebbe
  • Portrait of a Lady on Fire, directed by Celine Sciamma
  • Saturday Fiction, directed by Lou Ye
  • The Friend, directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite
  • The Laundromat, directed by Steven Soderbergh
  • The Lighthouse, directed by Robert Eggers
  • The Other Lamb, directed by Malgorzata Szumowska
  • The Painted Bird, directed by Vaclav Marhoul
  • The Personal History of David Copperfield, directed by Armando Iannucci
  • The Report, directed by Scott Z Burns
  • The Two Popes, directed by Fernando Meirelles
  • Uncut Gems, directed by Benny Safdie, Josh Safdie
  • Weathering With You, directed by Makoto Shinkai
  • While at War, directed by Alejandro Amenabar