A First Round for Toronto

Young Steven Spielberg as seen in Susan Lacey’s Spielberg (2017)

These dog days of summer are for ducking into repertory screenings and looking ahead to the fall festival season. As anticipation builds for tomorrow’s presentation of the Venice lineup, Toronto has spent the past few weeks rolling out titles, one by one, every few days. The biggest surprise so far is the announcement that Steven Spielberg, who has never before had a film screen at the festival, will launch The Fabelmans at TIFF 2022.

For more than two decades, Spielberg toyed with the idea of telling a story based on his own life as a child with a passion for cinema but with an uneasy, ambivalent attitude toward his Jewish background. He started writing and directing short narrative adventures when he was twelve, shooting on 8 mm, and he’s often said that throwing himself into moviemaking helped him through a difficult adolescence.

Working with Tony Kushner, who wrote the screenplays for Lincoln (2012) and West Side Story (2021), Spielberg has now put his name on a feature screenplay for the first time since A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001). Shooting on The Fabelmans began last summer, and, talking to Chris St. Lawrence at DiscussingFilm this past March, cinematographer Janusz Kamiński, who won Oscars for shooting Schindler’s List (1993) and Saving Private Ryan (1998), said that The Fabelmans is “a very beautiful, beautiful personal movie. It’s very revealing about Steven’s life and who he is as a filmmaker.”

The cast features Paul Dano as a character based on Spielberg’s father, Seth Rogen as a favorite uncle, Julia Butters as one of his younger sisters, and Michelle Williams as his mother. Williams spent hours watching the Spielberg family’s home movies and listening to recordings of Leah. “It’s funny, it’s sad, it’s kind of everything,” she said, talking about The Fabelmans with Variety’s Brent Lang last May. “It’s the muchness of life. We’re trying to reflect all of that.”

Mysteries and Love Stories

TIFF began its series of lineup announcements with another big one, Rian Johnson’s Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery. Daniel Craig returns as Benoit Blanc, “a courtly gumshoe with a Tennessee drawl and a florid turn of phrase,” as the Hollywood Reporter’s David Rooney wrote in his review of Knives Out (2019). The setting this time around is Greece, and the new suspects are played by Edward Norton, Janelle Monáe, Ethan Hawke, Kathryn Hahn, Leslie Odom Jr., Jessica Henwick, Madelyn Cline, Kate Hudson, and Dave Bautista.

The Woman King, directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood (Love & Basketball, Beyond the Lights, The Old Guard), tells a story based on the history of the Dahomey Amazons, an all-female military regiment of the Kingdom of Dahomey, one of the most powerful states of Africa in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Viola Davis, who stars as General Nanisca, tells Kristal Brent Zook in Vanity Fair, “I’ve never had a role like this before. It’s transformative . . . I knew what it would mean to us as Black people. Something that has never been done before. And what it would mean for Black women sitting in that movie theater. The responsibility is really high.”

Sanaa Lathan, who starred in Love & Basketball and has just been nominated for an Emmy for her guest performance in Succession, will make her feature directorial debut with On the Come Up, an adaptation of Angie Thomas’s 2019 young adult novel about a sixteen-year-old rapper, Bri, who aims to live up to her father’s legacy. His career was cut short by gang violence, and when Bri’s first hit goes viral, she struggles with the image that the industry wants to pin on her.

Nicholas Stoller directs Billy Eichner and Luke Macfarlane in Bros, a romantic comedy about two men wary of commitment. In a backgrounder for the New York Times, Alexis Soloski notes that “almost everyone in front of the camera and a lot of the people behind it identify as queer. Which means that the movie shoulders two responsibilities: to deliver a comedy as raucous and raunchy as fans of Stoller, and Judd Apatow, a producer, would expect, and to educate viewers, gay and straight, on the past and present of queer lives and relationships. Eichner has been working out, so those shoulders are pretty broad.”

Clement Virgo’s Brother is an adaptation of David Chariandy’s 2018 novel set in a housing complex in Scarborough, a district of Toronto, during the hot and violent summer of 1991. Two brothers, Michael (Lamar Johnson) and Francis (Aaron Pierre), sons of Trinidadian immigrants, tackle questions of masculinity, family, race, and identity when their father disappears and their mother is forced to take on double and triple shifts to make ends meet.

Renowned British theater director Michael Grandage follows up on his first fictional feature, Genius (2016), with My Policeman, starring Harry Styles, Emma Corrin, and Rupert Everett. Based on Bethan Roberts’s 2012 novel and set in Brighton in 1957, the film centers on a love triangle. Tom, a police officer, falls in love with Patrick, a museum curator. Marion, a schoolteacher, marries Tom, becomes jealous, and exposes Patrick, leading to his arrest for indecency.

Catherine Called Birdy is Lena Dunham’s adaptation of Karen Cushman’s 1994 children’s novel about a young girl trying to scare off suitors in thirteenth-century England. Dunham originally announced her intention to make the film back in 2014 when her HBO series Girls was at the height of its popularity. “I just need to find someone who wants to fund a PG-13 medieval movie,” she told New Yorker staff writer Ariel Levy. Dunham’s comedy Sharp Stick premiered at Sundance in January and will open in theaters at the end of this month.

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