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“Wow. Here you all are!,” Stephen Chbosky, director of the movie version of the hit Broadway play Dear Evan Hansen for Universal Pictures, proclaimed from the stage of the Roy Thomson Hall as he opened the 46th edition of the Toronto Film Festival on Thursday night.
Chbosky’s emotion flowed from being able to finally present to a live audience a stage-to-movie adaptation he and his cast and crew shot on a bubble-wrapped soundstage in Atlanta, Georgia at the height of the pandemic. “We’ve all been sequestered in our worlds for a long time. It has taken a terrible toll on all of us, we all know that, but here we are with hope in our hearts and we’re together and that is remarkable,” he said.
As mask-wearing and socially-distanced fest-goers in Roy Thomson Hall struggled to get into the mood after 18 months of pandemic lockdowns and isolation, Chobsky celebrated the return of audiences and community to movie theaters as TIFF launched its 2021 edition. “You guys get to have the bragging rights forever to say you were here, not only for the opening night of Dear Evan Hansen, not only for the opening night of TIFF, but as far as I’m concerned, the opening night of cinema in theaters in North America. You’re here,” he told the Roy Thomson Hall audience.
Chbosky was joined on stage by select Dear Evan Hansen cast members, led by Ben Platt, who reprises the title role of Evan Hansen in the movie adaptation to hit theaters on Sept. 24. Also introduced to the first night audience Colton Ryan, Danny Pino, Nik Dodani, Amandla Stenberg and Julianne Moore, along with the screenwriter Steven Levenson and Dear Evan Hansen producer Adam Siegel.
The delta variant loomed over the first night gala launch for TIFF, which for the second year running will stage a hybrid event with both in-person and digital features. Chbosky, his cast and entourage had to show proof they had been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and that they have tested negative for COVID-19 within 48 hours before entering Roy Thomson Hall for opening night as Toronto experiences a surge in coronavirus infection cases heading into the Fall.
“I just want people to come through this different TIFF with a great sense of hope that we’re here tonight, it’s a bit different, but it’s going to be great,” Toronto mayor John Tory said at one point during the gala premiere. Last year, Toronto has virtually no major Hollywood talent on the ground in the city as the Canadian border remained off-bounds to non-essential international travel.
This year, TIFF organizers are hoping for more filmmakers and talent to attend its limited in-person screenings, with audiences to be mostly filled with locals as film buyers and other industry execs are expected to mostly participate virtually.
“I hope that if you are still getting used to wearing heels and hard pants, that you’re still comfortable, because it’s been a while since we had to do that, and we’re going to ask that of you more often,” Toronto Film Festival artistic director and co-head Cameron Bailey told the opening night audience.
TIFF organizers plan to screen around 100 films during their 2021 edition through to Sept. 18.
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