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TIFF 2020: Spike Lee’s ‘David Byrne’s American Utopia’ Will Open This Year’s Festival

This year's festival, slated to play out in both digital and in-person events, will open with a joyous project about coming together.

"American Utopia"

“American Utopia”

HBO

This year’s Toronto International Film Festival will be slimmed down and more safety-minded than ever, but it still has an opening night film to kick things off. The festival announced today that HBO’s Spike Lee–directed version of the Broadway-acclaimed “David Byrne’s American Utopia” will open the 45th edition of TIFF on September 10.

The film, Lee’s second release of the year following his Netflix production “Da 5 Bloods,” documents Talking Heads frontman David Byrne’s popular musical Broadway show. “David Byrne’s American Utopia” played at Broadway’s Hudson Theatre in New York City with plenty of fanfare from October 2019 to February 2020.

The show finds Byrne performing songs onstage with 11 musicians from around the world. “Lee masterfully directs a transformative experience,” the festival said in a statement. “The show raises social and political issues, revealing how audiences can come together during challenging times through the power of entertainment.”

The show consists of performances of songs from Byrne’s 2018 solo album of the same name, including popular Talking Heads favorites such as “Once in a Lifetime” and “Burning Down the House.” In Canada, “David Byrne’s American Utopia” will premiere on Bell Media’s Crave day-and-date with the previously announced U.S. broadcast on HBO this fall.

“This joyful film takes audiences on a musical journey about openness, optimism, and faith in humanity,” said TIFF co-head and executive director Joana Vicente, executive director and co-head of TIFF in an official statement. “This is especially poignant at a time of great uncertainty around the world. We’re eager to share the excitement of Opening Night with audiences.”

Cameron Bailey, artistic director and co-head of TIFF added, “Spike Lee has somehow always been exactly of his moment and ahead of his time. With ‘David Bryne’s American Utopia,’ he brings Byrne’s classic songs and joyous stagecraft to the screen just when we need it. Spike’s latest joint is a call to connect with one another, to protest injustice, and, above all, to celebrate life.”

As the festival announced last month, this year’s event — set to take place September 10 – 19 — will exist as a both limited physical festival and an online experience, through a combination of physical screenings and drive-ins, digital screenings, virtual red carpets, press conferences, and industry talks. The lineup will be dramatically reduced from previous editions, with 50 new feature films and five short film programs. By contrast, the 2019 festival hosted over 300 films.

Per today’s announcement, the festival has again addressed that it is working with the Province of Ontario, the City of Toronto and public health officials on the safety of the festival. “The presentation of TIFF’s traditional in-person film festival will be contingent on the Province’s reopening framework to ensure that Festival venues and workplace practices meet and exceed public health guidelines,” the festival said.

Meanwhile, the festival has already made clear that it will have a reduced press corps, as the total accredited media will be limited this year. According to an accreditation form sent out to members of the press this week, the festival will not include in-person Press & Industry screenings or other on-site press activities, and all press access will exist entirely online. Press has been asked not to travel to Toronto for the event.

The festival will continue to announce programming additions in the coming weeks, with new titles joining the opening along with previously announced picks like Francis Lee’s “Ammonite,” Thomas Vinterberg’s “Another Round,” Ricky Staub’s “Concrete Cowboy,” Nicolás Pereda’s “Fauna,” Reinaldo Marcus Green’s “Good Joe Bell,” Suzanne Lindon’s “Spring Blossom,” Halle Berry’s directorial debut “Bruised,” and Naomi Kawase’s “True Mothers.”

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