Spielberg off to Toronto as film festival hails LGBTQ 'breakthrough year'

·3-min read

Steven Spielberg will lead a host of Hollywood A-listers across the border to Toronto this week for North America's biggest film festival, which organizers say will celebrate a breakthrough year for LGBTQ cinema.

The Harry Styles-led drama "My Policeman," about a closeted gay policeman, and Universal's "Bros" starring Billy Eichner -- the first major LGBTQ rom-com from a top Tinseltown studio -- are among a starry and 200-strong feature film lineup for the festival starting Thursday.

Renowned for drawing large cinephile crowds to its glitzy premieres and red carpets, the Toronto International Film Festival was hit hard by the pandemic and is seeking to return to full scale after two muted and pared-back editions.

"Jurassic Park" and "Schindler's List" director Spielberg often skips the film festival circuit entirely with his new releases, so landing the world premiere of his deeply personal "The Fabelmans" marks a major coup for TIFF.

"I think Steven Spielberg... and Universal know the power of the Toronto audience, in terms of how we respond to movies here," festival CEO Cameron Bailey told AFP.

"The knowledge and the passion for movies that we bring here -- I think that made a lot of sense to bring this into a festival, and to start here in Toronto."

Based on Spielberg's childhood in Arizona, the coming-of-age drama explores the family secrets of a young man with an early passion for filmmaking, and stars Michelle Williams, Paul Dano and Seth Rogen.

"This is a really unique story for him... he's really shied away, for the most part, from being directly personal in his films, unlike so many other filmmakers," said Bailey.

"But he's gone there for the first time with 'The Fabelmans.' It's powerful. If you know Spielberg's films as an adult, to see how this artist was formed as a boy is fascinating."

The Spielberg premiere on Saturday evening is one of several celebrating the significance of cinema itself, and the collective experience of watching movies together, along with "Empire of Light" by Sam Mendes.

The "American Beauty" and "1917" director will receive a career-honoring Tribute Award at a Sunday gala, before his latest movie about a romance at a beautiful old cinema in 1980s England premieres Monday.

- LGBTQ 'breakthrough'

Elsewhere, stars expected to grace Toronto red carpets include Jessica Chastain and Eddie Redmayne in "The Good Nurse," Jennifer Lawrence in "Causeway," Viola Davis in "The Woman King," and Nicolas Cage in "Butcher's Crossing."

Director Rian Johnson launches "Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery," a whodunit sequel in which Daniel Craig's sleuth meets a star-studded cast including Edward Norton, Ethan Hawke and Jada Pinkett Smith.

And in his first film since the 2018 best picture Oscar winner "Green Book," Peter Farrelly brings "The Greatest Beer Run Ever," starring Zac Efron.

But few are likely to draw more screaming fans and scrambling photographers to the carpet than Styles, whose high-profile arthouse film "My Policeman" premieres Sunday.

Emma Corrin and Rupert Everett also star in the film about a secretive affair between two men in 1950s England, at a time when homosexuality was still illegal.

Meanwhile "Bros" marks "the first time, in my knowledge anyhow, that a major Hollywood studio has made a film that is unapologetically and proudly queer," said Bailey.

Other similarly themed films at TIFF include "The Inspection," about a young Black man who enlists in the Marine Corps after being thrown out of his mother's home for being gay.

"There's a breakthrough this year... you're seeing LGBTQ stories being told in maybe places that they haven't been before, and in a much more mainstream way," said Bailey.

"The biggest companies that make films have often been the most cautious, shall we say, when it comes to this kind of representation," he added.

"That seems to be changing."

The festival kicks off Thursday with "The Swimmers" -- the true story of sisters leaving Syria to pursue a new life in Europe and the chance to swim in the 2016 Summer Olympics -- and ends September 18.