NEW YORK >> Prophecy abounds at the Toronto International Film Festival. Pundits pronounce Oscar guarantees. Buzz, the most cherished commodity at the festival, is measured and speculated on like stock prices.
But this year's festival, teaming with diversity on screen and behind the camera, stuffed to the gills with not just more than 300 films (138 of them premieres) but virtual reality and even a smattering of television, might just offer a broader vision of what's to come in movies.
"If you want to see the future of film, you need to come to Toronto this year," says Cameron Bailey, artistic director of the festival. "It feels like the range of the lineup in terms of the diversity of the stories that are being told and the storytellers that are telling them, the introduction of new technology, like the VR lineup we have, the way that the festival has pretty smoothly integrated television and long-form storytelling. All of those things, I think, are where film is headed."
It may be an optimistic portrait of cinematic future put forth by the 41st Toronto Film Festival, but the strength of festival lineup lends a sense of inevitability. The festival kicks off Thursday with the premiere of Antoine Fuqua's "Magnificent Seven" remake, starring Denzel Washington and Chris Pratt.
"The industry can only benefit from seeing more diverse everything. Not just in front of the camera, behind the camera, executive positions," says Fuqua, the director of "Training Day." "It's good for everyone because movies are a shared experience. People go to the theater and we all get to laugh and have fun with each other."
The movies at TIFF offer a compendium of the fall movie season, squeezed into a 10 day blitz. Many of them are awards-hopefuls, including most of the top films from Cannes, Venice and Telluride. And after a lackluster summer rife with blockbuster disappointment, the distance between seasons has never felt so vast.
No films come into Toronto with more heat than Damien Chazelle's Los Angeles musical "La La Land," starring Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, and Barry Jenkins' "Moonlight," a striking coming-of-age tale of a gay black man. Both have drawn enthusiastic raves out of Telluride and Venice in recent days.
Of the many TIFF debuts, few match the size of Peter Berg's "Deepwater Horizon," a visceral, big-budget rendering of the oil rig disaster, made with its own enormous mock rig.
Also on tap are courses of science-fiction (Denis Villeneuve's alien communication thriller "Arrival"), fantasy (J.A. Bayona's emotional "A Monster Calls," a drama filled with equal parts wonder and grief), and comedy (Kelly Fremon Craig's witty and honest coming-of-age movie "The Edge of Seventeen").
There are highlights from Sundance (Kenneth Lonergan's "Manchester by the Sea," Nate Parker's scandal-plagued "The Birth of a Nation") and Cannes (Jeff Nichols' "Loving," Andrea Arnold's "American Honey"). And there are dozens of intriguing titles up for sale, including a crop of atypical political dramas that feature Natalie Portman as Jackie Kennedy ("Jackie"), Devon Terrell as a young Obama ("Barry") and Woody Harrelson as Lyndon Johnson ("LBJ").
That's still not mentioning Terrence Malick's history-of-the-world documentary (in IMAX!), "Voyage of Time: Life's Journey," fashion designer Tom Ford's "A Single Man" follow-up, "Nocturnal Animals" or the Miles Teller-led boxing drama "Bleed for This."
"The enthusiasm that runs through the people that make the decisions of what's going to be there is ridiculous," says Jonathan Demme, who will premiere his Justin Timberlake concert film, "JT and the Tennessee Kids." "They've got good taste and they show TOO many movies. I've got the press schedule in my pocket right now. I'm going to see as many movies as I can in between our screenings."
David Oyelowo ("Selma") will bring two films to Toronto that reflect the festival in both the diversity of its casts and that they were each directed by women. A record 19 of this year's galas are directed by women. Oyelowo stars in Amma Asante's "A United Kingdom," about a Botswana royal's interracial marriage, and Mira Nair's "Queen of Katwe," about a young Ugandan girl trying to become a world chess champion.
For Oyelowo, a Brit of Nigerian descent, the two films are a kind of antidote to stories previously told about Africa. Oyelowo co-starred in 2006's "The Last King of Scotland," about Uganda dictator Idi Amin.
"I did have this thought in the back of my mind, I went, 'This is great but I just know there's more. I know for a fact there's more in terms of how Africa could and should be represented on film,'" says Oyelowo. "I developed this desire to just have more breadth of you'd seen out of Africa. 'The Last King of Scotland' was part of a crop of films like 'The Constant Gardner,' 'Hotel Rwanda,' 'Blood Diamond' and they were all about the darker side of what happens on that continent. All of which is true. Like anywhere, there's good and bad. But there was almost nothing else balancing it out."