10 under-the-radar films playing at TIFF 2017

From potential sleepers to perplexing arthouse fare, these films have been building buzz on film blogs and the festival circuit


Bulgarian director Ilian Metev won a prize at the Locarno Festival for this low-key drama about a brother, sister and father spending one last summer together. The non-professional cast workshopped their roles for a year, giving their rapport a documentary-like realness. There are also many scenes of walking-and-talking around the streets of Sofia, a city not typically the subject of such a loving cinematic treatment (at least in terms of what ends up in Canadian theatres).

Sep 9, 9:45 pm AGO Sep 11, 11:30 am TIFF Bell Lightbox 4 Sep 16, 9 pm, TIFF Bell Lightbox 3



Cinephiles have been waiting a nine years for Argentinean director Lucrecia Martel’s follow-up to her polarizing film The Headless Woman. Based on Antonio Di Benedetto’s 1956 novel, Zama is about a Spanish colonial officer in 18th century Paraguay but don’t expect a straight-forward historical epic. “Confusing,” “bewildering” and “feverish” are some of the adjectives recurring in the reviews out of Venice.

Sep 11, 6:15, TIFF Bell Lightbox 2 Sep 13, 11:45 am, AGO Sep 15, 8:45 pm, TIFF Bell Lightbox 3


Sighted Eyes/Feeling Heart

Director Tracy Heather Strain gives A Raisin In The Sun playwright Lorraine Hansberry the biography treatment in this last-minute addition to the TIFF Docs lineup. Though she was a prominent civil rights figure – her death at age 34 inspired Nina Simone’s To Be Young, Gifted And Black – she doesn’t have the same level of recognition as many of her peers. If you were intrigued by the sequence on Hansberry in Raoul Peck’s James Baldwin doc I Am Not Your Negro, this film should be on your TIFF list.

Sep 8, 9:30 pm AGO Sep 9, 9 am, TIFF Bell Lightbox 4 Sep 17, 3 pm, Scotiabank 7



Not exactly an obscurity, the latest from Pariah and Bessie director Dee Rees is screening in the Gala program but is flying under-the-radar as far as Toronto’s celebrity-obsessed media is concerned. Set in rural Mississippi in the 1940s and based on Hillary Jordan’s 2009 novel, it earned nice reviews and a $12.5 million deal with Netflix when it premiered at Sundance back in January. The cast includes Jason Clarke, Carey Mulligan, Mary J. Blige and Rob Morgan.

Sep 12, 6 pm, Roy Thomson Hall Sep 13, 2 pm, Princess Of Wales Sep 14, 11 am, Elgin, Sep 16, 9:30 pm, Princess Of Wales


April’s Daughter

Mexican director Michael Franco’s second film was a sleeper hit with critics at Cannes, who’ve been raving about Julieta star Emma Suárez’s performance as the mother from hell. NOW critic Paul Ennis called the film both “frighteningly believable” and “outrageous.” See review.

Sep 12, 7 pm, Scotiabank 2 Sep 14, 9:30 pm, Scotiabank 4 Sep 16, 9:30 am, Scotiabank 2


The Day After

Prolific South Korean filmmaker Hong Sang-soo has dedicated cult following in North America, but his drôle, drunken and unconventional romantic comedies rarely land distribution here ­– even on streaming platforms. He released no less than three films in 2017, but The Day After is the most high-profile having competed for the Palme d’Or in Cannes. See review.

Sep 13, 6:30 pm, Scotiabank 1 Sep 14, 9:15 pm, Scotiabank 2 Sep 16, 3:15 pm, Scotiabank 3


First Reformed

Paul Schrader might think slow cinema is dead, but that hasn’t stopped the critic-turned-director from going transcendent with this film starring Ethan Hawke as a grieving ex-military pastor. Schrader is one of the most consistently unpredictable filmmakers working today – his last film, Dog Eat Dog, played in Midnight Madness – and Hawke is earning some of the best reviews of his career. Could be an awards-season sleeper.

Sep 12, 4:30 pm, Ryerson Sep 13, 1 pm, Winter Garden Sep 15, 9 pm, Ryerson Sep 17, 6:30 pm, Ryerson


If You Saw His Heart

French filmmaker Joan Chemla is making her feature debut in TIFF’s juried Platform competition. Given Moonlight was included in Platform last year, this year’s lineup is getting more serious looks from critics and Chemla’s noir-ish drama, starring TIFF regular Gael Garcia Bernal and Marine Vacth (who was so good in Francois Ozon’s Young & Beautiful), looks particularly intriguing.

Sep 12, 8 pm, Winter Garden Sep 13, 9:15 am, TIFF Bell Lightbox 2 Sep 15, 6:30 pm, TIFF Bell Lightbox 2


Jeanette: The Childhood Of Joan Of Arc

One of the more bonkers films playing at TIFF, the latest from French director (and regular on John Waters’ year-end top 10 lists) Bruno Dumont gives Joan Of Arc the Jesus Christ Superstar treatment but with death metal and dance moves by Philippe Decouflé, an Olympic Games choreographer who also appeared Frederick Wiseman’s strip-club documentary Crazy Horse. This one has been dividing critics all year. See review.

Sep 12, 4:30 pm, AGO Sep 15, 6 pm, TIFF Bell Lightbox 3 Sep 17, 9:30 pm, TIFF Bell Lightbox 4


Good Luck

Ben Russell, who co-directed the experimental black metal documentary A Spell To Ward Off Darkness, returns to TIFF with another uncommercial non-fiction film. Shot in a state-run copper mine in Serbia and an illegal gold-mining operation in Suriname, Good Luck looks to be as surreal, tripped-out and political as his previous work. Definitely one to catch on the big screen.

Sep 11, 9:15 pm, TIFF Bell Lightbox 3 Sep 13, 3 pm, AGO

kevinr@nowtoronto.com | @kevinritchie

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