TIFF: British Theater-to-Film Directors Get Festival Spotlight

London Road

This year's City-to-City sidebar will showcase directorial double-acts moving from the live stage to the big screen.

Toronto Film Festival artistic director Cameron Bailey says the line between the UK's movie and theater worlds has blurred after he and TIFF CEO Piers Handling programmed new work by London directors for this year's City to City sidebar.

"Part of it is that theater has changed, that people who are writing and directing and acting in theater are deeply immersed in movies as well," Bailey told The Hollywood Reporter ahead of TIFF's 40th edition in September.

Toronto already announced an international premiere for London Road, a stage-to-movie adaptation by Rufus Norris, the new artistic director of the National Theater, and a world premiere for The Ones Below, by David Farr, a veteran stage director and screenwriter.

"They're using screens and moving images and using the genre conventions and pacing of movies, and they're cutting back and forth in scenes in the way cinema does," Bailey said of a new wave of Brit directors emerging from London's West End. Toronto is also giving a first look to The Lady in the Van, starring Maggie Smith and by veteran theater and film director Nicholas Hytner as he adapts Alan Bennett's West End play.

"You get terrific writing, terrific performances, a real sense of strong dramatic structure," Bailey added. This confluence of British movie directors well-versed in the UK theater and movie worlds is not surprising, considering Brit TV, film and theater is heavily concentrated in London, where the City to City sidebar has drawn its filmmaker lineup.

In addition, the National Theater, a British stage institution, and Brit exhibitors found success beaming handpicked stage productions live into local movie houses. But it also comes after a generation of filmmakers led by Stephen Frears, Ken Loach and Mike Leigh that emerged in the 1980s from a TV background to fly the Brit flag at major world film festivals. Bailey said he and Handling aimed at a diversity of voices among London filmmakers in the City-to-City section.

That includes world bows for Tom Geens' Couple in a Hole, George Amponsah's The Hard Stop and Michael Caton-Jones' Urban Hymn, an international bow for Paul Katis' Afghan war drama Kilo Two Bravo and a North American debut for Elaine Constantine's Northern Soul.

"Urban Hymn is a really polished, glossy drama. The Hard Stop is a rougher, much lower budget documentary. Northern Soul is a terrific crowd-pleasing, super-fun movie to watch, and we have a Couple in the Hole, an arthouse, enigmatic drama," Bailey said.

The Toronto Film Festival is set to run from Sept. 10 to 20.