Hello, and thanks for joining us at Tundra Telegram, the column where we zoom in on a few subjects that have people doing long takes, and filter out some great books that really hit the mark: both blockbusters and cult classics.
As the WGA and SAG-AFTRA labor dispute with major studios and streamers enters its fourth month, the Toronto International Film Festival, which starts this evening and runs until September 17, will look a lot different. There will be no press conferences and fewer actors and writers in town to promote their works. But that doesn’t mean the festival won’t feature a variety of delights for filmgoers.
As we did last year, we’re going to shine the spotlight on a shortlist of highly anticipated films screening at the 2023 Toronto International Film Festival and recommend a few books that could be just the ticket for you or your young reader. Let’s get rolling!
All the film buffs are psyched about South Korean films, so the Gala Presentation of a new action movie from Ryoo Seung-wan, Smugglers, is sure to be a hot ticket. A female-led heist movie and action film about a crew of free divers turned smugglers, the movie features some dazzling underwater action scenes. While Constellation of the Deep by Benjamin Flouw features a underwater fox explorer in pursuit of a rare and valuable plant and some mind-blowing aquatic scenes, no laws are broken in Fox’s sea quest.
One of the most high-profile films at TIFF is Dream Scenario, the surreal new Nicolas Cage movie, directed by Kristoffer Borgli and co-produced by Ari (Midsommar) Aster, about a university professor who suddenly finds celebrity when he starts appearing in nearly everybody’s dreams (!). Frankie, the bear who has trouble getting to sleep, may not appear in others’ dreams in A Bedtime Yarn by Nicola Winstanley and Olivia Chin Mueller, but the waking world nevertheless affects the dream world. When Frankie’s mother gives him some yarn to hold while sleeping, so she can knit a surprise for him, the yarn’s colors enter his sleeping thoughts, affecting the plot and color, and reminding him he’s always connected to loved ones, even in his dreams.
It’s not just narrative films drawing attention at the festival. Stamped from the Beginning is a buzzed-about documentary from filmmaker Roger Ross Williams, based on a book from Dr. Ibram X. Kendi, that takes a deep dive into the full history of anti-Black ideas in a way that grapples with present-day racism. For younger audiences, Antiracist Baby by the very same Dr. Ibram X. Kendi and illustrated by Ashley Lukashevsky is what you should read to your kid before watching the film: a picture book that encourages parents and children to uproot the racism in society and ourselves.
CHAPTER BOOKS & MIDDLE GRADE
Awkwafina and Sandra Oh star as sisters Anne and Jenny in Jessica Yu’s comedy Quiz Lady, which has its world premiere at TIFF. When the siblings find out their mother has racked up an impressive gambling debt, there’s only one solution: hit the road and use Anne’s trivia skill to win a television game show. Of course, the film reminded us of the comedic No Fixed Address by Susin Nielsen, in which homeless twelve-year-old Felix Knuttson attempts to win on a national quiz show to turn his and his mother’s luck around.
The director of Borat (Larry Charles) will premiere his wild, queer musical-comedy take on The Parent Trap, Dicks: The Musical, as part of TIFF’s Midnight Madness program. The film follows a pair of identical twins who conspire to reunite their divorced and disturbed parents (Nathan Lane and Megan Mullally). The kids may not be identical and the plot not as madcap or crude, but Auriane Desombre’s The Sister Split is also a queer, reverse take on The Parent Trap, featuring a pair of soon-to-be-stepsisters who try to break up their parents so they can stay out of the suburbs.
TIFF’s opening film is the long-awaited new (and perhaps final?) film from Japanese animation master Hayao Miyazaki, The Boy and the Heron. During World War II, young Mahito Maki suffers a heartbreaking family tragedy and must move immediately to the countryside, where his father works for a family making planes for Japan’s military. There he encounters a grey heron, which eventually leads him into wondrous, strange world. The film was originally planned as a direct adaptation of Genzaburo Yoshino’s novel How Do You Live?, one of Miyazaki’s favorite books. But in the final film, that philosophical coming-of-age story is but one of the many layers of inspiration that connects fiction with the director’s own youth.
Everyone is talking about the world premiere Next Goal Wins, the new film from Taika Waititi, an off-beat sports comedy about the American Samoa soccer team’s attempt to make a World Cup twelve years after a disastrous 31-0 loss in a 2002 World Cup qualifying match. While the young soccer players are not quite as hopeless in Warren St. John’s Outcasts United, they are a team of real underdogs. The book is the story of the Fugees – a real-life youth soccer team made up of refugees from around the world – and how they overcame many challenges and rallied support in their Georgia community.
The Holdovers marks the return of director Alexander Payne to TIFF, and it stars his sometime muse Paul Giamatti as a strict professor stuck supervising students who stay at an elite boarding school over winter break. Enter one rebellious student, which leads to a battle of wills and, eventually, a mutual respect. The students are less rebellious and more assassin-y in S.T.A.G.S. by M. A. Bennett, a book in which a scholarship student at a prestigious private school learns the legacy students are keen to invite her to a real-life game of manhunt – with her as the prey!
In a North American premiere that was just announced, director Ava DuVernay will present her new film Origin at TIFF in a Gala Presentation. The film is a creative biopic of author Isabel Wilkerson’s life, as she works on the book that would become her New York Times bestseller, Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents. You can read the final product, as there is a version of Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents adapted for young adults by Isabel Wilkerson. The book (and we’re guessing the film) chronicles the lives of real people to reveal an insidious phenomenon in the United States: a hidden caste system. It looks at social hierarchies in India and Nazi Germany, and explains how these systems destroy the lives of vast sections of societies – and how those systems work in America today.
Finally, if you’re in the mood for a good, old-fashioned horror-comedy directed by one of the kids from Stranger Things, check out Hell of a Summer in the Midnight Madness program. Directed by actors Finn Wolfhard and Billy Bryk (Ghostbusters: Afterlife), this is a self-aware slasher set at a doomed summer camp with plenty of twists. There’s no better pairing than the new YA horror-comedy There’s No Way I’d Die First by Lisa Springer, which hit bookstores earlier this week! The book concerns teen horror buff Noelle Layne, who throws a massive Halloween party that turns deadly when the actor she hired to play Pennywise from Stephen King’s It starts killing off her party guests. Luckily, Noelle has been spending most of her life training to be a final girl.
That’s a wrap! See you at the movies – AND the bookstore!