Your Guide To Science At The 2019 Toronto International Film Festival
by Bettina Barillas
The Toronto International Film Fest is the proving ground for films of all genres and, over the course of its 43 years of existence, the festival has offered to the public new ways of engaging with art and culture. Audiences annually descend on the festival to find the best films of the year, discover new directions in cinema, and learn about the creation of film. Science as a theme crosses into every aspect of our lives and the stories we choose to put onto film. Not surprisingly, many films at this year’s TIFF explore themes at the intersection of science, art, and humanity.
Arriving at a singular definition of what counts as a “science” film is nearly impossible– as is selecting categories to further label each of these films. In general, we at Labocine eschew labels such as documentary, fiction, short, feature film and rather group content of all lengths by common themes and unifying threads. In true Labocine fashion, we’ve pulled together a list of films that caught our eye and grouped them by general (but by no means categorical) themes. These are Our Top Picks, Scientists, Doom & the Apocalypse, Environment, Science Fiction, and Technology.
Read on for a comprehensive list of films with strong science themes showing at this year’s TIFF.
This year’s festival runs from September 5 to 15. For schedule and tickets, visit tiff.net.
Our Top Picks
For fans of The Tiny Chef or stop-motion in general, Human Nature is a definite must see. It’s a widely acceptable fact that smaller objects of all kind spark joy among us — cute puppies, kitties, and babies fill our feeds and bring joy to our dull days. Director Sverre Fredriksen’s short does that as well — and provides a much needed comedic break in the rest of the hard-hitting comic line up.
In Fredriksen’s world, things look a little bit…different. We see naked humans laying in the field, taking naps on high surfaces in homes, and barfing in public. Humans and animals have switched places. And, in a refreshing aesthetic choice, people of all shapes, sizes, and colors are represented with love — a big win for intersectionality at this year’s TIFF.
Don’t take our word for it, but Nicolas Cage is secretly the greatest actor ever. Even at his worst, he entertains. And at his best? It’s the closest a lot of us will be to the precipice, looking directly into the whirling dervish of hysteria, insanity and neuroses.
In addition to what promises to be an engaging performance, this premiere and its director are surrounded by an air of mystery that only adds more ambiance to an already eery HP Lovecraft tale. After a series of moderately successful sci-fi and horror films, he was tapped to helm The Island of Dr. Moreau (1996), but after dramatic disputes over creative differences, he was fired in the first days of production. According to IMDB, the final film used about two words from his original script. After this disappointment, he took a big step back from feature films, focusing on writing. Stanley initially announced the project in 2013, showcasing a proof of concept trailer online, making this his first major narrative feature since 1996.
The project has been closely guarded, but from the stills alone, looks like it will be a winner.
In addition to a stellar cast, La Belle Epoque brings a unique spin to VR technology that makes it worth paying attention to. In the middle of a mid-life crisis, the main character Victor hires a bespoke VR-experience company to recreate the “good ol’ days” for it’s wealthy customers looking to play out fantasies of the past recaptured. The company, known as the Time Travelers, is incredibly thorough in re-creating these days-gone-by, paying attention to make sure that the smallest of detail is accurate to the time-period selected by their clients, even prepping actors to play roles of note in the clients’ lives.
For Victor, he wishes to return to the 1970’s when he fell in love with his wife for the first time. The customized experience provides him an escape from a marriage on the rocks and, he hopes, will remind him of why he fell in love with his wife in the first place. However, Victor becomes so entrapped in the illusion created by a young actress that he becomes more and more unwilling to leave this constructed reality of his younger self, shelling out more and more cash to keep the dream alive.
It’s refreshing to see VR portrayed not only as cool tech, but as being able to channel deep human emotions. The film raises questions around how we live through and in our memories and offers a portrayal of the consequences of what just might happen if we did have an opportunity to go back in time.
Rosamund Pike portrays two-time Nobel prize-winning Marie Curie, in her quest to be seen as a scientist in her own right outside of the shadow of her husband. Directed by Marjane Satrapi, whose animated Persepolis was nominated for an Academy Award, the biopic blends animation and live action seamlessly to tell the story of the famous scientist and the impact her work has had on the world.
Matt Damon and Christina Bale join forces in this biography following a pair of U.S. American engineers up competing against Team Ferrari in the 1966 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance race. Hot on the heels of his reinvention of the X-Men in Logan, director James Mangold’s next work is generating a lot of buzz.
This short film from the UK follows the creation of an elephant tusk in a lab as a commentary on conservation, fabrication, and authenticity.
Natalie Portman returns to space as an astronaut who begins to question her mundane daily life and marriage after a successful mission to outside of the Earth’s atmosphere leaves her feeling empty.
A mother and daughter’s relationship is put to the test as a young astronaut starts a grueling year-long training to prepare for a year-long mission to space.
A scientist and hot air balloonist attempt to make history in 19th century England by attempting to break the record for altitude.
Doom & the Apocalypse
In this dystopian jail, prisoners jailed in vertically stacked cells watch as food descends from above on a platform. While prisoners on the upper levels are enjoying elaborate banquets, those on the bottom rungs must fight for scraps. When a man voluntarily enters the facility with the promise of upward social mobility on his release, he starts to lose his mind and become more desperate for an escape.
This local production uses the zombie genre to pointedly critique Canadian cultures and attitudes towards its indigenous peoples as an isolated Mi’gmaq community discovers they are immune to the zombie plague. As people from the cities around them seek refuge, the community must decide whether they will let the outsiders in.
Leonardo DiCaprio produced this feature-length documentary about an electric street racing league fighting to show how, according to league’s founder and CEO Alejandro Agag, “the excitement of the sport can have a meaningful social impact and alter perceptions of electric vehicles.”
This stop motion short takes a comic look at humans and their place in the animal kingdom.
Spanish actors and environmental activists Carlos and Javier Bardem give a tour of the beautiful Antarctic landscape in a bid to save it in partnership with Greenpeace.
Ellen Page takes the lead in documenting the environmental racism in her native Nova Scotia. Page takes the viewer on a deep dive of the disproportionate amount of landfills and industrial pollution sites next to Indigenous and Black communities across Canada.
Six years in the making, this retelling of the classic HP Lovecraft story is South African director Richard Stanley’s return to feature films after a well-documented fall from Hollywood grace. Starring beloved weirdo Nicolas Cage, the film revolves around a descent into madness after a mysterious meteor crashes into the idyllic farm of normal New Englander Nahum Gardner and fills the lives of all who come near it with misery and suffering.
Bacurau is a uniquely Brazilian take on the classic western, revolving around strange happenings in a small town in Brazil’s sertão or outback following the death of a beloved matriarch. After the funeral, the town’s residents discover that their village has been erased from all maps — an ill-fated omen in a plot that draws heavily on “The Most Dangerous Game.”
The release of Gundala marks the entry of South East Asia into the cinematic superhero universe with a first installment following beloved Indonesian hero Gundala The film remains faithful to author Hasmi’s comic books, first released in 1969, and tells the creation myth of Gundala, who after a freak accident gains special powers to shoot lightening to his hands.
Over the course of a single night, two friends investigate a mysterious sound they discover while listening to the radio in their small, New Mexico town in the 1950s.
The lines between reality and nightmare are blurred for a psychiatric patient under treatment in a mysterious health facility.
Filipino director John Torres reworks behind the scenes footage from local film productions to build a strange world where humans are controlled by apps.
Not to be confused by the 1994 Fernando Trueba film, La Belle Époque follows a man-in-crisis who hires a time-traveling VR company to recreate a happier period in his marriage many years before. While the plot is a touching tale of a man searching for meaning in his life, the film is, in its own way, also a period piece courtesy of the Time Travellers, a bespoke VR experience company who recreate the ‘good ol days’ for wealthy Parisians.
Daniel Radcliffe plays the lead in this Black Mirror-esque popcorn film where after a long night of chatroom braggadocio, the main character finds himself in a live-streamed Battle Royale where he must fight for the survival of himself and his girlfriend with only the guns surgically attached to his hands. The film has been billed as an “adrenaline-fueled balls-to-the-wall original action-comedy reminiscent in tone to films such as ‘Kick-Ass’ or ‘Deadpool.’
A young monk in rural, mountainous Bhutan falls in love with a young singer after meeting on WeChat. Desperate to meet his girlfriend in person and to escape the monotony of a life of prayer, he sells mushrooms to earn enough money for a one way ticket.
In a not-so-distant future in Turkey, an ordinary building manager accidentally gains access to the country’s state of the art surveillance system that starts to threaten the residents of his building. The horror film serves as an allegory for the surveillance state and its limitations of free speech in modern-day Turkey.
A miniature AI hologram, Maiko, is programmed to be utterly devoted to her teenage owner. But when he gets a real girlfriend, her passions may prove to be too large for her container, in William Laboury’s cunning work of speculative fiction.
One of the world’s most prestigious film festivals, the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) aims to transform the way people see the world, through film. This year, TIFF runs from 1–15 Sept. Learn more about the festival on their website: www.tiff.net
About the author
Bettina is a communications consultant, whose work supports social change initiatives in health and clean energy in southern Africa and Latin America. Her work has seen her teaching photography courses to youth in villages across Botswana, writing content for high ranking officials working in HIV/AIDS programming, and building business case studies for clean energy investments across southern Africa. She is currently based in Johannesburg, South Africa.