Photos: TIFF 2017 kicks off with battle rap and Grace Jones

The music icon hits the red carpet at her doc premiere and battle rapper-turned-screenwriter Kid Twist throws down on Festival Street

The Toronto International Film Festival’s opening night is usually all about big American stars walking the red carpet at Roy Thomson Hall and autograph hounds darting around King Street in front of the TIFF Bell Lightbox. But the real action on Thursday was at the kickoffs for the TIFF Docs and Midnight Madness programs.

Music and fashion icon Grace Jones made a rare appearance in Toronto alongside director Sophie Fiennes for the world premiere of their doc, Grace Jones: Bloodlight And Bami, at the Elgin. The last time the Jamaican star pulled up to Toronto’s bumper was for a private AGO event in 1998, so anticipation in the room was palpable to say the least.

True to her night-owl reputation, Jones was more than an hour behind schedule for her photo call, though it didn’t seem like anyone (other than the photogs and reporters standing patiently along the red carpet) minded that much that the movie started (behind schedule) without her – the fashion-forward crowd roared with laughter throughout the doc and applauded after each electrifying concert scene. (Read our review of the film here and our interview with Jones here.)

When Jones finally arrived, she hammed it up for fans and photographers on the sidewalk. During the Q&A with programmer Thom Powers, she admitted that working with Fiennes was a totally unique experience given how controlling she is of her image. “I’m a slave to vanity,” she explained.


Samuel Engelking


Samuel Engelking

Producer Katie Holly (left), director Sophie Fiennes, Grace Jones, and producer Shani Hinton at the Grace Jones: Bloodlight And Bami premiere at the Elgin.

Grace Jones Sophie Fiennes.jpg

Samuel Engelking

Sophie Fiennes (left) and Grace Jones ham it up.

Meanwhile, a few blocks north at the Ryerson Theatre director Joseph Khan opened Midnight Madness with what’s sure to be one of TIFF’s most incendiary and debated films.

Bodied skewers identity politics and cultural appropriation with a story about an nerdy white academic type (Calum Worthy) who becomes a rising star in Oakland’s diverse battle rap underground. Pretty much every racist, misogynist, ablest and homophobic slur you can imagine is hurled in the Eminem-executive produced indie film (which is looking for distribution at TIFF), and at times the usually vocal Midnight crowd fell silent as the (impressively executed and written verses) battles became less funny and more personal, conceptual and disturbing.

“I hope my career doesn’t end tonight,” Kahn told MM programmer Peter Kuplowsky, who immediately echoed the sentiment since this was his first film since taking the program’s reins from Colin Geddes.

During the Q&A, Kahn and the film’s screenwriter, Toronto-born battle rapper Alex “Kid Twist” Larsen, said they wanted to create a film that not only satirized current Internet discourse around identity, but also showed how “free speech absolutists” have to be prepared to suffer consequences. And if some of the flow patterns and rhyme schemes in the film sound familiar that’s because Bodied’s superstar exec producer provided a lot of “notes” – i.e. punch-ups on the battle-rap verses.

Earlier in the night, Larsen participated in a rap battle on Festival Street alongside Toronto spitter Charron and American MC Madness. Check out photos from the premiere and the performance below.


Samuel Engelking

Director Joseph Kahn (left), TIFF Midnight Madness programmer Peter Kuplowsky and rapper Dumbfoundead attend the premiere of Bodied.


Samuel Engelking

Bodied stars Jackie Long (left) and Calum Worthy mug for photogs.

Bodied cast.jpg

Samuel Engelking

The Bodied cast and crew ham it up on the Midnight Madness red carpet.


Cheol Joon Baek

Toronto battle rapper Charron


Cheol Joon Baek

Battle rappers Madness and Alex “Kid Twist” Larsen face off on Festival Street


Cheol Joon Baek


Cheol Joon Baek

Alex “Kid Twist” Larsen


Cheol Joon Baek


Cheol Joon Baek

Film fans mill about on Festival Street in front of TIFF Bell Lightbox


Cheol Joon Baek | @nowtoronto

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