Toronto film festival focuses on Arab contenders

Hany Abu Assad and Haifaa Al Mansour line up alongside Hollywood heavyweights at an event providing early clues about the contenders for next year’s Oscars

Kate Winslet and Idris Elba in Hany Abu Assad's The Mountain Between Us. Courtesy Tiff and Kimberley French / 20th Century Fox
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The Toronto International Film Festival, one of the world's leading events and traditionally a time when likely Oscar contenders are given their world or international premieres, has announced the first slate of almost 50 films for this September's schedule, and there are some big-hitting regional names among the movies announced so far.
Oscar-winning Palestinian director Hany Abu Assad, director of Omar, Paradise Now and The Idol, will premiere his Hollywood debut, The Mountain Between Us, at Tiff. Abu Assad steps into the A-list with his new film, directing stars Idris Elba and Kate Winslet in this action thriller about two strangers forced to work together to survive after being stranded in a mountain wilderness after a plane crash. Look out for our interview with the film's stars when it goes on general release in October.

Pioneering Saudi director Haifaa Al Mansour will also make her Hollywood debut at Tiff. Al Mansour's previous movie, Wadjda, was the first film to be nominated by Saudi Arabia in the Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars. Al Mansour was then invited to team up with Game of Thrones star Maisie Williams, Maleficent's Elle Fanning and The Riot Club's Douglas Booth on Mary Shelley, a biopic of the Frankenstein author and wife of poet Percy Shelley, which will also premiere in Toronto.

A little further afield, three Indian movies will have their world premieres at the festival. Anurag Kashyap's Mukkabaaz (The Brawler) will debut, alongside The Hungry by Bornila Chatterjee and Hansal Mehta's Omerta. Omerta tells the story of British-born terrorist Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, who kidnapped and murdered the Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl in 2002. 
Mehta said: "Omerta is my most provocative film so far. It is a chilling political thriller – a reminder of the volatile times we live in. I'm delighted for the entire team that has patiently and diligently worked on this very difficult film."
The film's star Rajkummar Rao said: "I'm extremely happy that it's been selected for Tiff. After Shahid, it's my next film that's been selected for this prestigious film festival."
Tiff's artistic director Cameron Bailey has trimmed the line-up this year by a fifth, supposedly to give the films that do show more opportunity to stand out, but there's still plenty to get excited about in the new, leaner line-up. 
Angelina Jolie makes her Netflix directorial debut with her adaptation of Loung Ung's harrowing Cambodian memoirs First They Killed My Father. Jolie shot the movie while then-husband Brad Pitt was filming War Machine in Abu Dhabi and Ras Al Khaimah, and passed through the UAE enroute to the Cambodian set. Another big name taking a turn behind the camera at Tiff is George Clooney, who directs Matt Damon in the Coen Brothers-scripted crime comedy Suburbicon
Making his directorial debut, meanwhile, will be Hollywood's go-to motion-capture actor, Andy Serkis – Gollum from The Lord of the Rings and Caesar from the recent Planet of the Apes movies. Breathe stars Andrew Garfield as a man who is paralysed after suffering from polio.
There are also films from big-name directors including Guillermo del Toro, who brings his sci-fi flick The Shape of Water, starring Sally Hawkins, to town. 
Darren Aronofsky also returns to the screen with the Jennifer Lawrence-starring psychological horror Mother!, while Greta Gerwig writes and directs Lady Bird.
Tiff can usually be relied on as a good sounding board for next year's Oscar hopefuls – last year's festival gave premieres to nominees including La La Land, Arrival and Nocturnal Animals. Films already being hyped for Oscar contention include Mother!, Margot Robbie's portrayal of controversial figure skater Tonya Harding in I, Tonya and Dee Rees's Mississippi-set race drama Mudbound.
The Toronto International Film Festival takes place from September 7 to 17. Check out the full listings at