Toronto International Film Festival is underway with many high-profile films premiering, from Jessica Chastain’s “The Eyes of Tammy Faye” and the controversial “Jagged” to the critically-mixed musical“Dear Evan Hansen.”
But the festival also offers many films that often fall under the radar in favor of splashier ones. Much like Sundance before it, Toronto’s festival features a wide array of probing stories from diverse filmmakers that beg you to think about underrepresented communities and how they see the world.
From a documentary about a shocking 50-year-old prison uprising to the story of a woman trapped in a late 1800s mental institution, here’s a peek at the best films we saw that impressed us with their deep, inclusive storytelling.
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Korean entry “Aloners” features the story of Jina (Gong Seung-yeon), a self-satisfied loner who is more than happy to plug her headphones and ignore the world around her. But when a new hire starts at work seeking her friendship and guidance and her next-door neighbor dies out of nowhere, she’s forced to reconsider her attitude.
The pandemic forced us to spend time alone more than ever; you can’t help but feel for Jina’s antisocial tendencies. But “Aloners” surely reminds that there’s more to the world than glueing yourself to your phone all day. It also mirrors a cultural phenomenon in South Korea called holojok, where people prefer living alone in one-person households –accounting forone-third of all homes in Seoul.
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More and more, stories seep out of the past that have us all wondering: Why didn’t we hear about this before? You may be asking yourself that about new documentary “Attica,” which documents the four-day prison uprising from 50 years ago (the largest prison rebellion in U.S. history). The most painful part of the film – beyond deeply disturbing images of bloodshed – is the lesson that it all could have been preventable had prisoners been able to negotiate with authorities on basic demands for better care from prison staff. You’ll feel even more pain when you realize many prisoners still go without basic care. Showtime will release the film later this year.
A flashpoint in prison reform:A visual look at how the Attica prison riot unfolded
What are we but the sum of our parts? “Beba” explores this question in a mesmerizing memoir-style documentary from director Rebeca Huntt. Huntt’s Black, Dominican father and Venezuelan mother met as immigrants in New York, and raised her and her two siblings in a one-bedroom apartment there. The film digs into how volatile personalities result in intense physical and emotional confrontations between relatives, and will leave you breathless thinking about the ways we all inflict pain on one another – especially those closest to us.
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“Benediction” blends poetry, war and queer romance into a stream-of-consciousness-style, sweeping narrative that spans decades. Siegfried Sassoon, a poet and reluctant soldier in WWI-era England, condemns the war and winds up committed in a hospital where he befriends (and romances) another poet and soldier Wilfred Owen. The film also tracks Sassoon’s romances with other men over the years, and ultimately his marriage to a woman to assimilate in society.
queer joy, if not necessarily a happy ending). Also – spoiler alert – the film’s final crying scene rivals a similar one at the end of “Call Me By Your Name.”
More joy, please:I’m just a boy, standing in front of Hollywood, begging for more joyful LGBTQ films
What if you could converse with spirits, but nobody believed you? And then they committed you to a psychiatric ward?
Eugénie Cléry (Lou de Laâge) faces such a fate inactor-director Mélanie Laurent’s “The Mad Women’s Ball,” streaming on Amazon Prime Friday. A young woman in late 1800s France, Eugénie craves independence and has a penchant for speaking her mind – and yes, she claims to communicate with spirits.
Stay for the early spooky season vibes, but be warned: Abuse scenes – including a rape – may be triggering.
More on the film:French feminist period drama ‘The Mad Women’s Ball’ will make you believe in ghosts. Maybe.
Queer stories in media often center on white protagonists. But “Wildhood” stars Phillip Lewitski as a two-spirit Mi’kmaw teenager coming to grips with his sexuality and his indigenous heritage (two-spirit is an indigenous term for someone who is a member of the LGBTQ community). A story of brotherhood, sexual identity, community and parenthood all in one, “Wildhood” makes an ideal watch for anyone at a crossroads of figuring out where they fit in this “wild” world.
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