10 movies music fans need to see at this year's Toronto International Film Festival

The 46th annual TIFF will kick off on Sept. 9, and will include in-person screenings once again.

The 46th annual TIFF will kick off on Sept. 9, and will include in-person screenings once again

Dionne Warwick: Don't Make Me Over, a new documentary chronicling the 6-decade career of the legendary singer, will make its premiere at the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival. (Courtesy of TIFF)

As the world continues to gradually reopen, so too have festivals of all kinds. While the Toronto International Film Festival went fully digital last year, the annual festival will reintroduce in-person screenings this year in addition to showcasing films online, at drive-ins as well as outdoor, open-air spaces. It is set to kick off on Sept. 9 and run until Sept. 18. 

Individual tickets go on sale to the public on Sept. 6, and if you need help narrowing down which movies to catch, CBC Music is here to help you find some of this year's best music films to add to your list.

What are you most excited to see at this year's TIFF? Share with us @CBCMusic.

Dear Evan Hansen 
Starring Ben Platt, Kaitlyn Dever, Julianne Moore, Amy Adams
Directed by Stephen Chbosky 

Following in the footsteps of other recent stage musical adaptations (Hamilton, In the Heights), Dear Evan Hansen will make its world premiere on the big screen at this year's TIFF. Based on the six-time Tony Award-winning Broadway musical, Dear Evan Hansen is a teen coming-of-age drama that finds its protagonist, Evan Hansen, entangled in the story and family of a classmate who died by suicide. Ben Platt, who won a Tony for his portrayal of Evan Hansen in 2017, reprises his title role, and is joined by an impressive cast including Kaitlyn Dever, Amandla Stenberg, Julianne Moore and Amy Adams. If you're a fan of musicals, this will be the festival's hottest ticket.

Dionne Warwick: Don't Make Me Over 
Starring Dionne Warwick
Directed by Dave Wooley and David Heilbroner

Dionne Warwick is a force, and Dave Wooley and David Heilbroner's documentary is a chronicle of the renowned singer's 60-year career in music and activism. Her outsized personality is the soul of the film, as it sees a young girl from New Jersey go on to play shows at the Apollo Theatre and eventually become the first Black woman to win a Grammy in the pop category in 1969. The documentary also positions Warwick as a champion of Black and LGBTQ rights, highlighting moments when she toured with Sam Cooke through the southern United States during the Jim Crow era and raised $3 million for AIDS research in 1985 with her collaborative version of her single "That's What Friends Are For," featuring Gladys Knight, Elton John and Stevie Wonder. On top of those three, a whole gaggle of special guests make appearances to sing Warwick's praises throughout the doc: Quincy Jones, Alicia Keys, Carlos Santana, Whitney Houston (in archival footage) and even Snoop Dogg. 

Dug Dug 
Starring Altaf Khan, Gaurav Soni, Yogendra Singh and Durgalal Saini
Directed by Ritwik Pareek

The story of this satirical, absurdist film by first-time filmmaker Ritwik Pareek is the vehicle through which Salvage Audio Collective's stellar score comes to life. A man has an unfortunate motorcycle accident after drinking and driving, and the bike is impounded by the police. But for some reason, the motorcycle appears back at the fatal location the very next day. The people of the neighbourhood begin to believe the motorcycle has some kind of divine connection to the soul of the man who died because no matter where it's brought to, it magically reappears every day at the exact same spot. The film's narrative rolls out in a series of montages, soundtracked by Salvage Audio's jazzy score. The Mumbai collective is known for composing the music for Gully Boy, India's 2019 submission to the Academy Awards for best international film. 


Starring Alanis Morissette, Taylor Hawkins, Shirley Manson
Directed by Alison Klayman

It's been 26 years since Canadian artist Alanis Morissette shot to stardom with her breakthrough album, Jagged Little Pill. With hits like "You Oughta Know," "Hand in my Pocket" and "Ironic" still standing strong as feminist anthems today, Alison Klayman's new documentary, Jagged, aims to dive deeper into the whirlwind years that made Morissette one of pop's biggest stars. The film is part of Ringer Films and Bill Simmons' 30 for 30-style music doc series, Music Box — which recently released its first feature, Woodstock 99: Peace, Love and Rage — features brand new interviews with Morissette as well as cameos from musicians and critics such as Garbage's Shirley Manson, Foo Fighters drummer Taylor Hawkins, filmmaker Kevin Smith and author Hanif Abdurraqib. 

Last Night in Soho
Starring Anya Taylor-Joy, Thomasin McKenzie, Matt Smith
Directed by Edgar Wright 

Edgar Wright films (Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Baby Driver) tend to come with a killer soundtrack, so our expectations are high for his latest, Last Night in Soho. This film — Wright's second of the year after releasing a documentary on the musical duo Sparks in July — is a psycho-thriller set in London. It follows Eloise (Thomasin McKenzie), a modern-day young woman studying fashion at a London academy, whose life becomes psychically intertwined with a '60s singer named Sandy (Anya Taylor-Joy).   

Learn to Swim 
Starring Thomas Antony Olajide and Emma Ferreira
Directed by Thyrone Tommy

Toronto-based filmmaker Thyrone Tommy's debut feature tells the love story of Dezi (Thomas Antony Olajide) and Selma (Emma Ferreira): he's a reserved and private but virtuosic saxophone player, and she's a larger-than-life singer with little experience but lots of charisma. They fall for each other but it's not smooth sailing. Theirs is a tumultuous courtship, hindered by emotional baggage and communicated through jazz music. The romantic and sexual progression of their relationship occurs through musical conversations — the music they play and make together possesses heartbreak, pleasure and exaltation. Much of the music was composed specifically for the film and the score was written by Montreal musician and filmmaker TiKA, as well as musicians Chester Hanson and Leland Whitty of BadBadNotGood. 

Listening to Kenny G 
Starring Kenny G
Directed by Penny Lane 

Another film that's part of Ringer Films and Bill Simmons' Music Box series, Penny Lane's Listening to Kenny G uses the famous saxophone player as a gateway to explore something bigger: what makes music good or bad? Chronicling the rise and fame of Kenny G, this documentary interviews both critics and fans of the musician, digging into ideas of easy-listening music, white artists appropriating Black art, and how Kenny G once became the nexus of these polarizing debates.  

Neptune Frost
Starring Cheryl Isheja, Bertrand "Kaya Free" Ninteretse and Elvis Ngabo
Directed by Saul Williams and Anisia Uzeyman

American poet, rapper, songwriter and musician Saul Williams is the king of left-field avant garde, and this Afro-sonic sci-fi musical, which he co-directed and composed, fits right into that canon. An intersex hacker named Neptune and a coltan miner named Matalusa (coltan is a metallic ore that is refined and used in cell phones, computers and cameras) start an opportune romance that propels a revolution in Rwanda. The anti-colonial film brings to a head the ramifications of the partitioning of the African continent. African countries' resources have been extracted ever since the first European encounters, and the subsequent colonization, imperialism and genocide are the basis for the exploitation that Neptune and Matalusa are trying to rise up against. Behind the scenes, the film was executive produced by playwright and actor Lin-Manuel Miranda as well as Cayuga and Mohawk group the Halluci Nation.

Oscar Peterson: Black + White 
Starring Billy Joel, Jon Batiste, Herbie Hancock, Branford Marsalis, Quincy Jones and Measha Brueggergosman
Directed by Barry Avrich

Barry Avrich's documentary enlists an extensive number of Oscar Peterson's contemporaries and successors to tell the story of "Canada's greatest jazz musician." Herbie Hancock, Branford Marsalis, Measha Brueggergosman, Joe Sealy, Robi Botos, Billy Joel, Quincy Jones and more discuss the prolific musician's rise to prominence and his impact on the genre. The film is a celebratory look at Peterson's life, from his working-class beginnings in Montreal to his death at 82 as an international household name. Avrich also looks at Peterson's life offstage, and through interviews with his friends and family explores how the pianist's never-ending touring impacted his personal relationships. 

Triumph: Rock and Roll Machine
Starring Gil Moore, Mike Levine, Rik Emmett
Directed by Sam Dunn and Marc Ricciardelli 

One of the biggest Canadian bands of the '70s and '80s is the subject of a brand new documentary from Banger Films (Long Time Running, Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage). Triumph: Rock and Roll Machine will look at the career and legacy of the Mississauga band Triumph and follow the band members as they reunite and prepare to meet today's ultra-fans at an event staged at member Gil Moore's Metalworks Studios. 


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