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.