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Film Festival Today

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5 Films to See at TIFF 2023

The Toronto International Film Festival (or TIFF) returns for its second fully in-person post-pandemic year, running September 7-17, 2023. Even with the continuing strikes by two of Hollywood’s most powerful unions—SAG-AFTRA (Screen Actors Guild and American Federation of Television and Radio Artists) and the WGA (Writers Guild of America)—we can expect to see some stars on the red carpet and at screenings, courtesy of waivers issued by said unions.

Once again, I will be on the ground for the opening weekend. Below are my recommendations of 5 films I have already seen. Each brief capsule description is an excerpt from a full-length review written for Hammer to Nail (where I am lead critic), which will run during and after the fest. I will write different full-length reviews for Film Festival Today after I see new films in Toronto. Stay tuned.

England team, 1971, as seen in COPA 71, directed by Rachel Ramsay and James Erskine. Photo credit: Mirrorpix. Courtesy of New Black Films.

Copa 71 (James Erskine/Rachel Ramsay)

In the sport of football (aka soccer), the first Women’s World Cup was held in China in 1991, the U.S. beating Norway 2-0. What a milestone in the history of the sport! Except that it was perhaps not quite the milestone it was made out to be. True, this was the first such FIFA World Cup. But 20 years earlier, in Mexico, there had been a true first. We learn this fact alongside some of America’s champion footballers, among them Brandi Chastain and Alex Morgan, both two-time World Cup winners who had never heard of it. The mystery of why the history of the “Copa Mundial Femenina de Fútbol de 1971” has so long remained unknown forms the spine—along with the exciting details of the actual event—of Copa 71, a rousing new documentary from directors James Erskine and Rachel Ramsay (The End of the Storm, as director and producer). The reasons for the news blackout all these years will infuriate, even as the actions of the women back then inspire.

Director Chris Wilcha in FLIPSIDE. Photo courtesy of Deep Cut, Exploded View and Every Other Present.

Flipside (Chris Wilcha)

A creative existence can be hard to sustain, the imperatives of life demanding that we also earn a salary to take care of ourselves and our loved ones. Such is the dilemma faced by filmmaker Chris Wilcha—and by anyone who has tried to follow their artistic passions, or just passions in general—which he discusses in his new film Flipside. Nominally about the titular record store in Pompton Lakes, NJ, near where Wilcha grew up, the documentary is even more a cinematic contemplation of the search for meaning. As such, it is deeply satisfying, both to the director and the viewer.

Alix West Lefler in THE KING TIDE. Photo courtesy of TIFF.

The King Tide (Christian Sparkes)

On a small island off the coast of Newfoundland lives a community of people cut off from the mainland, self-sufficient in all ways. How do they manage? There is a miracle worker among them, a 10-year-old girl who came to them one day, out of nowhere, a foundling on a capsized boat drifting on the tide. Able to cure every ailment and also lure fish to shore, young Isla ensures that no harm will come to anyone. Or so she and they think. The King Tide is both family drama and stark existential thriller, complemented by supernatural mysticism. At its best, it analyzes the dangers of insularity and mob rule. There are hidden secrets below the surface, even if some remain obscure.

l-r: Hermann Samúelsson and Þröstur Leó Gunnarsson in SOLITUDE. Photo courtesy of TIFF.

Solitude (Ninna Pálmadóttir)

Icelandic director Ninna Pálmadóttir makes her feature debut with Solitude, a seemingly slice-of-life drama that turns fraught at the end. Focusing on two lonely people, an old man and a boy, who find unexpected friendship via close proximity, the movie analyzes the way human behavior can turn on a dime, perceptions shifting to devastating results. Against the vagaries of human emotions, kindness will only get you so far.

Jørgen Mykløen in SONGS OF EARTH. Credit Dag Asle Mykløen

Songs of Earth (Margreth Olin)

Norwegian director Margreth Olin’s deeply personal cinematic essay, Songs of Earth, showcases the magnificent northern landscapes in which her parents have always lived. “Our first love was nature,” reads an opening title card. Given the enduring romance between her father and mother, that is perhaps not entirely true, but it speaks to the awe that the Oldedalen Valley, within the Nordfjord area (400km+ to the northeast of Oslo), can inspire in all who view it. Olin (Childhood) divides the documentary into sections by season, bookended by a prologue and epilogue. Her exceptional team of cinematographers capture the splendors before them, irrespective of time of year, with stunning attention to detail. At every turn, with every frame, there is nothing but exquisite beauty.

For tickets to these and other films, check out the festival website. Enjoy!


Christopher Llewellyn Reed is a film critic, filmmaker, and educator, as well as Film Festival Today's Editor. A member of both the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA), and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, Chris is, in addition, lead film critic at Hammer to Nail and the author of Film Editing: Theory and Practice.

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