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Toronto (Canada) (AFP) – The Toronto film festival got off to a somber start Thursday as theaters dimmed their lights for the passing of Queen Elizabeth II before a Netflix drama about Syrian refugees kicked off North America’s biggest film gathering.
The Princess of Wales and Royal Alexandra theatres, both festival venues named after members of the British royal family, turned off their marquee signs as news of the Commonwealth monarch’s death spread.
“As we come together to celebrate the power of film to move us and illuminate our world, I want to acknowledge the passing of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II today,” said Festival Director Cameron Bailey.
“Our thoughts are with everyone here and around the world who mourn his loss.”
“Ninety-six is a fantastic age, but I think it’s sad,” actor Matthias Schweighofer said on the red carpet at the opening night of his movie “The Swimmers.”
The drama tells the true story of Syrian sisters Yusra and Sara Mardini, who nearly drowned in the Mediterranean in 2015 while towing a rubber boat full of refugees to a Greek island.
Her heroism garnered international attention, and a year later, Yusra won her heat at the Rio Olympics as part of the Games’ first refugee team.
In addition to showing the harrowing journey of the Mardinis, “The Swimmers” aims to put on a relatable face with the refugees. It portrays the carefree lives of the sisters before the war came, and their bitter bewilderment at finding European tourists frolicking in the same sea they had barely survived crossing hours before.
“We really hope that many people’s opinion will change, because many people have a wrong image of refugees,” Nathalie Issa, who plays Yusra, told AFP.
“I know how badly (people in the West) view refugees, I know how they view Arabs, I know how they portray them in movies,” added Manal Issa, who plays Sara.
Swift fan outrage
Elsewhere, Thursday saw the world premiere of “The Inspection,” about a young black man who enlists in the Marine Corps after being kicked out of his mother’s house for being gay.
It’s one of several LGBTQ-themed films at TIFF, along with Harry Styles’ portrayal of a shut-in police officer in Universal’s “My Policeman” and “Bros” starring Billy Eichner, the first major LGBTQ romantic comedy from a major Tinseltown . study.
But the first night of the festival was plagued by chronic ticketing issues, as attendees were unable to access the digital tickets they had purchased in time to attend the opening films.
At a festival that typically sets itself apart from its rivals by prioritizing audience accessibility, Taylor Swift fans expressed particular outrage at being unable to get tickets for a small panel Friday featuring the singer and her film “All Too Well: The ShortFilm”.
“Literally downtown Toronto…and I’ll wake up knowing I won’t see Taylor at #TIFF22 even if it’s down the street,” fan @missegyptiana tweeted.
Spielberg arrives in Toronto
Renowned for drawing huge crowds of moviegoers to its premieres and red carpets, the Toronto International Film Festival has been hit hard by the pandemic and is confident of returning to its full glitz and glamor after two quiet years.
Steven Spielberg will drive a host of Hollywood celebrities across the border for the world premiere of his deeply personal and childhood-inspired “The Fabelmans.”
Other stars arriving in Toronto this weekend include Jessica Chastain and Eddie Redmayne in “The Good Nurse,” Jennifer Lawrence in “Causeway,” Viola Davis in “The Woman King” and Nicolas Cage in “Butcher’s Crossing.”
Director Rian Johnson releases “Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery,” a mystery sequel in which Daniel Craig’s detective meets a star-studded cast that includes Edward Norton, Ethan Hawke and Jada Pinkett Smith.
And in his first film since 2018’s Best Picture Oscar-winning “Green Book,” Peter Farrelly brings “The Greatest Beer Run Ever,” starring Zac Efron.
TIFF runs through September 18.
© 2022 AFP