“David Byrne’s American Utopia” to Open This Year’s Virtual TIFF

Like every other film festival and aspect of our lives, the Toronto International Film Festival has been affected by COVID-19. There won't be any in-person screenings this year. But instead of canceling altogether, many films will have virtual premieres. TIFF co-heads Cameron Bailey and Joana Vicente have announced this year's opening night film will be David Byrne's American Utopia, directed by Spike Lee.

The filmed version of Byrne's Broadway show was already headed to HBO but will get plenty of extra buzz by premiering here. It's not that surprising a pick, not only because of Lee and Byrne's prestige, but because it's bound to put the audience in a good mood. That will be especially important after this dreadful period.

I was lucky enough to see a version of the American Utopia show when it toured in 2018. It was an extremely powerful concert, featuring Byrne accompanied by a freely moving, barefoot band and a troupe of extremely talented dancers. Everyone wears grey suits, dancing in rhythm to the wide selection of songs from Byrne's American Utopia album, as well as some of the Talking Heads' greatest hits and a cover of Janelle Monae's "Hell You Talmbout."

Lee is no stranger to filming Broadway performances, having directed productions of the musical Passing Strange, the play Pass Over, and one-man shows by John Leguizamo and Mike Tyson. He's also on a roll lately, having picked up his first Academy Award for co-writing Black Klansman, and earning raves for Da 5 Bloods. This might seem an unlikely pairing, but their talent should make for an incredible collaboration.

David Byrne's American Utopia will open TIFF on September 10. It will air on HBO and HBO MAX later in the fall.


About Kip Mooney

Kip Mooney
Like many film critics born during and after the 1980s, my hero is Roger Ebert. The man was already the best critic in the nation when he won the Pulitzer in 1975, but his indomitable spirit during and after his recent battle with cancer keeps me coming back to read not only his reviews but his insightful commentary on the everyday. But enough about a guy you know a lot about. I knew I was going to be a film critic—some would say a snob—in middle school, when I had to voraciously defend my position that The Royal Tenenbaums was only a million times better than Adam Sandler’s remake of Mr. Deeds. From then on, I would seek out Wes Anderson’s films and avoid Sandler’s like the plague. Still, I like to think of myself as a populist, and I’ll be just as likely to see the next superhero movie as the next Sundance sensation. The thing I most deplore in a movie is laziness. I’d much rather see movies with big ambitions try and fail than movies with no ambitions succeed at simply existing. I’m also a big advocate of fun-bad movies like The Room and most of Nicolas Cage’s work. In the past, I’ve written for The Dallas Morning News and the North Texas Daily, which I edited for a semester. I also contributed to Dallas-based Pegasus News, which in the circle of life, is now part of The Dallas Morning News, where I got my big break in 2007. Eventually, I’d love to write and talk about film full-time, but until that’s a viable career option, I work as an auditor for Wells Fargo. I hope to one day meet my hero, go to the Toronto International Film Festival, and compete on Jeopardy. Until then, I’m excited to share my love of film with you.