Waititi, Keaton go behind lens at Toronto film fest

TORONTO, Sept 11 — Every day at the Toronto International Film Festival features a jam-packed schedule with screenings from morning to midnight at multiple venues, making it a challenge to keep up with all the world premieres on offer.

Here’s a quick look at three movies that debuted this weekend in Canada’s largest city. All of them come from talents also known for work in front of the camera: Oscar winner Taika Waititi, Michael Keaton, and Scandal star Tony Goldwyn.

Next Goal Wins

Waititi earned huge cheers and laughs yesterday with Next Goal Wins, a feel-good comedy about the efforts of American Samoa’s football team to qualify for the World Cup, little more than a decade after losing 31-0 in a qualifying match.

The 48-year-old actor-director (Thor: Ragnarok, What We Do in the Shadows) cast Michael Fassbender against type in a comedic role as Dutch-American team manager Thomas Rongen, who is sent to try to whip the hapless team into shape.

The story had already been told in documentary form, but Waititi infused this slightly fictionalized take with his signature offbeat sense of humor — a winning formula, if the enthusiastic applause from the crowd was any indication.

“I wanted to tell this story because it’s uplifting… I had never attempted to make a sports film, so I just wanted to give myself a new challenge and get out of my comfort zone,” Waititi said on the red carpet.

The Maori filmmaker is right at home in Toronto: his Nazi satire Jojo Rabbit won the coveted TIFF People’s Choice Award here in 2019, and went on to win an Oscar for Waititi for best adapted screenplay.

“For me, the most important thing is to put ourselves on screen — by that, I mean Polynesians, Pacific Islanders, because we often get overlooked, especially in terms of the diversity conversation,” he said.

Rongen and transgender player Jaiyah Saelua, portrayed in the film by Kaimana in a touching performance, were warmly received by the audience and joined Waititi on stage for the brief post-screening question and answer session.

Waititi stressed the importance of representing the character of Jaiyah as a Fa’afafine, people who have fluid gender roles in Samoan culture.

Knox Goes Away

Keaton did double duty for Knox Goes Away, directing and starring in the story of John Knox, a hit man with memory loss who is trying to finish one last job — helping his estranged son (James Marsden) cover up a murder.

The way forward is complicated and so Knox enlists his friend Xavier (Al Pacino) to help him remember all the details of his job before it’s too late.

At times darkly funny, the film offered a unique look at the ravages of memory loss and the inclination to make amends in one’s final days.

The ongoing Hollywood actors’ strike meant that Keaton and other artists involved in the project did not attend the premiere, in solidarity with their Screen Actors Guild (SAG-AFTRA) colleagues, who joined writers on the picket line in July.

Some of the film’s producers walked the red carpet.


Goldwyn, a stage and screen actor known for Ghost and a years-long run on ABC’s Scandal, is also an accomplished director, with multiple films under his belt.

This time out, he tapped Robert De Niro, Bobby Cannavale and Rose Byrne to star in “Ezra,” a crackling family drama based on the experiences of Goldwyn’s friend and screenwriter Tony Spiridakis in raising an autistic son.

Cannavale plays Max, a standup comic trying to land a spot on a late-night talk show while navigating a divorce from Jenna (Byrne, his real-life partner) and the complex needs of their son Ezra (William Fitzgerald).

An impromptu — and illegal — road trip upends the family dynamic and leads to a new normal for everyone, including Max’s father Stan (De Niro).

“We knew we did not have a movie if we did not have Ezra,” Goldwyn told the audience at the post-screening Q and A late Saturday, heaping praise on Fitzgerald, who is autistic and won the role over about 100 other young actors.

“He had some heavy stuff to do in telling this story and William threw down. He’s the real deal.” — ETX Studio


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