Cincinnati Takes from the Toronto International Film Festival

By Jackie Reau, Editor/Publisher


I traveled to the Toronto International Film Festival last weekend and was treated to three film experiences with Cincinnati takes. After a strong showing at the Cannes Film Festival this spring, Film Cincinnati wasted no time making its presence known here on the international cinema scene with one of two Cincinnati-made movies to be shown at TIFF.

For a filmophile, TIFF is a must-do travel experience that is accessible, compact and fan friendly. Over the three days, we were able to rush (wait in line for the change to buy unclaimed tickets) three movies including George Clooney’s Suburbicon and Battle of the Sexes.

Toronto is a beautiful city with much to do outside of the cinema theatre. Shopping at Eaton Centre, a visit to the Rogers Centre for a Blue Jays game or a walk along the waterfront. It’s also an easy flight from CVG to Toronto that takes about one and a half hours.

Back to the movies.

On the Opening Day of the Festival last Friday, My Days of Mercy, the Ellen Page/Kate Mara vehicle that was shot in Cincinnati was premiered. Reviews were quick to come in, including this from Variety:

“Page, in the middle of a very busy year, gives one of her best performances in a tailor-made role. Mara is fine as a character whose elusiveness ultimately transcends plot device.”

And this review, from IndieWire: “The greatest triumph of ‘My Days of Mercy’ is that it handles such heavy subject matter (capital punishment) with grace and — mercifully — as light a touch as good taste will allow.”

Mercy will show again throughout this final weekend of TIFF.

Also having its North American premiere at TIFF is the Cannes Film Festival’s critically acclaimed “The Killing of a Sacred Deer,” the Nicole Kidman/Colin Farrell motion picture shot in Cincinnati last year. And another movie with Cincinnati-ties, George Clooney puts on his director’s hat to debut his newest drama, Suburbicon, starring Matt Damon and Julianne Moore. 

Expect more Cincinnati-made films to make their way to TIFF next year, and to Sundance this winter. 

George Clooney talks about his Cincinnati Childhood at TIFF
One of the most anticipated films of the Toronto International Film Festival, Suburbicon, directed by one of Cincinnati’s favorite sons, George Clooney, came from the Venice Film Festival straight to weekend showings here at TIFF. Clooney, who brought the production of The Ides of March to Cincinnati more than seven years ago, wrote Suburbicon along with the Coen brothers and his long-time writing partner Grant Heslov. The feature played to a packed house at Roy Thomson Hall in the heart of TIFF’s Festival Street Sunday afternoon, and Clooney came on stage after the showing for a quick Q & A with the audience.


The story, not to give anything away, is a mix of race relations in the late 1950s and the angst of a dysfunctional relationship between Matt Damon’s character and that of Juliette Moore (playing twins). In the Q&A, Clooney referenced his upbringing in Greater Cincinnati as an influence as to the inflection of the movie that depicts racial conflict in the 50’s.

“I grew up in Kentucky during the civil rights movement,” Clooney said, “and we really thought we were moving in the right trajectory, we thought that we got rid of segregation, we thought we were going to head this whole thing off at the pass and finally get rid of it. We saw it and we never really completed it.”

He also talked about the relationship between the tone of the movie and today’s political tone. “I’m not sure movies are very good at doing topical stories,” Clooney said. “The conversations we were talking about when we were writing was not about Charlottesville, it was about Mexicans and Muslims.

“It takes two years to make a movie, so I think what films DO right, is talking about subjects that are socially relevant. What they can do is put a pin in a moment in time and remind us of where we were and what we were thinking, and we do that very well.”

He also talked about how, as a producer, you need to work with the actors to tell the story. “It’s your responsibility to tell them what movie they’re gonna be in. So they’re all acting in the same way. Luckily, I had these insanely talented actors. The tone in general, I had to set it, here’s the playground we’re playing on. And then you guys take it from there.”

He also referenced his Cincinnati childhood to reflect on the social and racial messages in the movie. “Unfortunately, you don’t have to be a soothsayer to realize that we’re going to constantly have to be dealing with these issues. My father (Nick) was an anchorman in Cincinnati, and I remember at one point there were six skinheads protesting on Fountain Square (In Cincinnati) so he had to go down and cover the story and watch six idiots running around doing stupid things.

“And he takes the camera and goes to the top of Carew Tower, which was (then) the tallest building in Cincinnati and he shoots down on these six little idiots with probably a thousand people around yelling at them. Because he wanted to put into perspective how much they really represented the city of 400,000 and really our country. They don’t represent us. They don’t represent who we are.”

Battle of the Sexes” with a bit of Cincinnati history
The Emma Stone-Steve Carell tennis biopic, Battle of the Sexes, one of the most talked about presentations here at the Toronto International Film Festival, had its TIFF debut Sunday night with Oscar buzz already starting around Stone’s portrayal of tennis legend Billie Jean King. 

Her opponent in that 1973 match, Bobby Riggs, was past his tennis prime by the time the two met but Riggs had quite a successful court career, especially in Cincinnati. Riggs won what was then called the Tri-State Tennis Tournament (now the Western & Southern Open) in Cincinnati four times and was ranked Number 1 twice during his career. 

The movie (fresh from the Telluride Film Festival) is one of two tennis-themed movies at TIFF, the other is Borg/McEnroe, detailing the rivalry between Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe. Battle of the Sexes doesn’t delve much into Riggs’ past except to touch on his track record for gambling and showmanship. (Many people forget that Riggs played, and defeated, Margaret Court in a similar ‘battle of the sexes’ before the Billie Jean King match.)

At a news conference at the US Open to promote the movie, Emma Stone talked about the preparation involved in playing the tennis legend. “I could never live up to Billie Jean King,” she said. “I knew the best I could do was to study her as much as possible, and to try to capture her essence, more than anything, that spirit that you’re talking about, to bring that to life in a realistic way. 

“She asks everybody about themselves, she wants to learn about everyone’s story, she truly loves people, she is a true humanitarian, that spirit was vital to try to get the edges of.” 

Battle of the Sexes will be released on Friday, September 22.