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“Dear Evan Hansen” to open TIFF 2021, “One Second” to close

Ben Platt reprises his Tony-winning stage role in “Dear Evan Hansen” in Stephen Chbosky’s screen adaptation, which will open TIFF 2021 as a world premiere.

Peter Howell

Movie Critic

“Dear Evan Hansen,” a Tony-winning Broadway musical reflecting our current age of anxiety, will make its big-screen world premiere Sept. 9, as the opening night gala presentation of the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival.

Directed by Stephen Chbosky, the screenwriter of “Beauty and the Beast” and “Rent,” the film stars Ben Platt, reprising his Tony-winning title role of Evan, a high school senior with a life-altering anxiety disorder, whose impassioned letter to himself leads to unforeseen consequences.

Platt’s co-stars include Amy Adams, Julianne Moore, Kaitlyn Dever, Amandla Stenberg and Nik Dodani. The stage play, a touring version of which played Toronto’s Royal Alexandra Theatre, won six prizes at the 2017 Tony Awards, among them Best Musical, Best Book of a Musical, Best Original Score and Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical (Platt).

The healing and forgiveness themes of “Dear Evan Hansen” make it “the ideal film” to launch the festival in a year of continuing recovery from the global pandemic, said Cameron Bailey, TIFF’s artistic director and co-head, in an interview.

“It’s a story that feels like it really is of this moment … It sets the right tone for the festival, starting out. It’s been a tough year for a lot of people. There is serious dramatic material in the film, but it’s ultimately so hopeful. The music is just really soaring and lifts up your spirits.”

TIFF also announced its closing night gala film, a North American premiere: “One Second,” a drama directed by China’s Zhang Yimou (“Hero,” “House of Flying Daggers”).

Described as a “love letter to movies,” it stars Wei Fan and Xiaochuan Li in the story of a labour farm camp escapee, desperate for a glimpse of his missing daughter, who is travelling with a movie projectionist who might be able to assist him.

The film was originally supposed to premiere at the Berlin Film Festival, but it was withdrawn due to “technical reasons.” Chinese government censorship was suspected as the real reason, although there were no impediments to showing it at TIFF, Bailey said.

TIFF also announced the first titles selected for its big-ticket Gala and Special Presentations programs, many of them world or North American premieres. The list includes previously announced films that have now been slotted into these programs.

Along with “Dear Evan Hansen” and “One Second,” the newly announced Gala presentations are: “Clifford the Big Red Dog” (Walt Becker), “The Electrical Life of Louis Wain” (Will Sharpe) and “The Survivor” (Barry Levinson).

Previously announced Gala selections are “Belfast” (Kenneth Branagh), “Jagged” (Alison Klayman), “Last Night in Soho” (Edgar Wright), “The Mad Women’s Ball” (Mélanie Laurent) and “Night Raiders” (Danis Goulet).

In the Special Presentations program, newly announced titles are “Ali & Ava” (Clio Barnard); “All My Puny Sorrows” (Michael McGowan); “Bergman Island” (Mia Hansen-Løve); “Drive My Car” (Ryusuke Hamaguchi); “Encounter” (Michael Pearce); “I’m Your Man” (Maria Schrader); “Inexorable” (Fabrice du Welz); “The Middle Man” (Bent Hamer); “Official Competition” (Mariano Cohn, Gastón Duprat); “Paris, 13th District (Les Olympiades)” (Jacques Audiard); “The Story of My Wife” (Ildikó Enyedi); “Three Floors” (Nanni Moretti); “Violet” (Justine Bateman); “The Worst Person in the World” (Joachim Trier) and “The Eyes of Tammy Faye” (Michael Showalter).

Previously announced films in the Special Presentations program are “Benediction” (Terence Davies); “Charlotte” (Eric Warin, Tahir Rana); “Dionne Warwick: Don’t Make Me Over” (Dave Wooley, David Heilbroner); “The Guilty” (Antoine Fuqua); “Lakewood” (Phillip Noyce); “Petite Maman” (Céline Sciamma) and “The Starling” (Theodore Melfi).

Many of the films announced Tuesday premiered at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this month, which managed to show all of its films in theatres despite continuing COVID-19 protocols, which included COVID tests every 48 hours for many non-European attendees.

TIFF is similarly planning in-person screenings for all of the 100-plus features it will show at its 2021 festival, said Bailey and Joana Vicente, TIFF’s executive director and co-head. These will be subject to COVID protocols, which currently limit attendance to 50 per cent of a theatre’s capacity.

It will supplement these with screenings on its digital platform, unveiled last year, which will be primarily aimed at press and industry attendees. Journalists will also have the option of seeing press screenings at the Scotiabank Theatre for the first five days of the fest.

Vicente said it’s too soon to say whether TIFF will have on-site COVID testing, as Cannes did. But she’s encouraged by the responses she’s getting from many U.S. and other international film industry representatives, who will be allowed to cross the U.S.-Canada border for this year’s fest, thanks to border-opening plans announced this week by Ottawa.

This means there could be many more celebrities at TIFF 2021 than there were last year, when border restrictions were at their peak. The virulent Delta variant may still force some restrictions come September, Vicente said, but industry people she’s talked to are optimistic.

“People are like, ‘We’re booking our flights. We’re ready to come back,’” she said.

See and for more information.



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