American Utopia to Open TIFF 2020

By Pickle  July 28, 2020

American filmmaker Spike Lee masterfully directs a transformative experience, as the show raises political injustice, revealing how audiences can come together during challenging times through the power of entertainment

The HBO, Spike Lee-directed filmed version of David Byrne’s Broadway theatrical concert “American Utopia” will be the opening night presentation of the 45th Toronto International Film Festival on September 10.

The film documents musical innovator and former Talking Heads frontman David Byrne’s powerful Broadway show, where he performs songs on stage and shares the spotlight with 11 musicians from around the world, including Toronto’s own Jacquelene Acevedo. Lee masterfully directs a transformative experience, as the show raises social and political issues, revealing how audiences can come together during challenging times through the power of entertainment.

TIFF continues to work closely with the Province of Ontario, the City of Toronto, and public health officials on the safe execution of the Festival, with its number-one priority being the health and well-being of both Festival filmgoers and the residents of the entire community. The presentation of TIFF’s traditional in-person film festival will be contingent on the Province’s reopening framework to ensure that Festival venues and workplace practices meet and exceed public health guidelines.

“Spike Lee has somehow always been exactly of his moment and ahead of his time,” said Cameron Bailey, Artistic Director and Co-Head, TIFF. “With David Byrne’s American Utopia, he brings Byrne’s classic songs and joyous stagecraft to the screen just when we need it. Spike’s latest joint is a call to connect with one another, to protest injustice, and, above all, to celebrate life.”

“This joyful film takes audiences on a musical journey about openness, optimism, and faith in humanity,” said Joana Vicente, Executive Director and Co-Head, TIFF. “This is especially poignant at a time of great uncertainty around the world. We’re eager to share the excitement of Opening Night with audiences.”

“HBO is enormously fortunate to be able to bring David Byrne’s American Utopia to the Toronto International Film Festival,” said Nina Rosenstein, Executive Vice President, HBO Programming. “David’s poignant vision paired with Spike’s impeccable direction is a visual journey. TIFF Festival attendees are certain to be captivated by this unique viewing experience during these demanding times.”

David Byrne’s American Utopia played at Broadway’s Hudson Theatre in New York City with plenty of fanfare from October 2019 to February 2020. The concert consisted of performances of songs from Byrne’s 2018 solo album of the same name, including popular Talking Heads favourites such as “Once in a Lifetime” and “Burning Down the House.” Janelle Monáe’s “Hell You Talmbout” is also featured in the set list and contributes to tackling the impactful subjects surrounding Black Americans who have been killed at the hands of law enforcement. The 11-person troupe performs choreography by Annie-B Parson and dances with their instruments throughout the stage, creating a high-energy performance. In Canada, David Byrne’s American Utopia will premiere on Bell Media’s Crave day-and-date with the US broadcast on HBO this fall.

Spike Lee makes short films, ads, documentaries and feature films. He is also a teacher. Mr. Lee is a tenured film professor at New York University Graduate Film School and artistic director too. David Byrne is a Scottish-born, American-raised songwriter and singer. He’s best known as the frontman of Talking Heads, who were active between 1975 and 1991 and were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2002. Byrne won an Oscar and a Grammy Award along with Ryuichi Sakamoto and Cong Su for their original score for Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Last Emperor (1987).

Participant, River Road Entertainment and Warner Music Entertainment are executive producing and financing the project, with Participant as lead. The film is produced by David Byrne’s Todomundo and Lee’s Forty Acres and a Mule Filmworks production companies and executive produced by RadicalMedia. Byrne and Lee serve as producers. Participant’s Jeff Skoll, David Linde, and Diane Weyermann executive produce; along with Warner Music Group’s Len Blavatnik, David Bither, Charlie Cohen, and Kurt Deutsch; Bill Pohlad and Christa Zofcin Workman of River Road; and RadicalMedia’s Jon Kamen, Dave Sirulnick and Meredith Bennett. Kristin Caskey, Mike Isaacson and Patrick Catullo, who lead-produced the Broadway production, also serve as executive producers.

The 45th Toronto International Film Festival runs September 10–19, 2020.

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