‘American Utopia,’ Spike Lee’s David Byrne Concert Film, to Open Toronto Film Festival

“American Utopia,” a filmed-version of David Byrne’s hit Broadway show, will be the opening night presentation of the 45th Toronto International Film Festival. This edition of the annual Canadian gathering for film lovers is unlike any of the previous 44 iterations. Due to coronavirus, TIFF will be a mixture of physical and virtual events and many studios have privately said they don’t expect to have as big a presence because of the difficulty of traveling during the pandemic.

“American Utopia” was a hot ticket when it hit Broadway in the fall of 2019 and played to sold-out crowds through February of 2020. Spike Lee shot the production during its Hudson Theatre run and the concert film will air on HBO this fall. It will screen in Toronto on September 10, the same day it premieres on the cable channel. The TIFF selection continues a hot streak for Lee, who released the acclaimed Netflix drama “Da 5 Bloods” over the summer and recently won an Oscar for co-writing 2018’s “BlacKkKlansman.”

The concert consists of performances of songs from Byrne’s 2018 solo album of the same name as well as works from his Talking Heads years such as “Once in a Lifetime” and “Burning Down the House.” Byrne also covered Janelle Monáe’s “Hell You Talmbout,” a protest song about police brutality that could not feel more timely. Byrne sings, plays instruments, and dances along with an 11-person troupe, all while performing high-energy choreography by Annie-B Parson. It’s a good thing the 68-year old Byrne is an avid cyclist.

“This joyful film takes audiences on a musical journey about openness, optimism, and faith in humanity,” said Joana Vicente, executive director and co-head of TIFF, in a statement. “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.”

“Spike Lee has somehow always been exactly of his moment and ahead of his time,” said Cameron Bailey, artistic director and co-head of TIFF, in a statement. “With David Bryne’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.”

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