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Directors must navigate TIFF without their lead actors amid Hollywood strike

TORONTO — Promoting a film at the Toronto International Film Festival is inherently challenging, and even more difficult in the absence of lead actors for support during press engagements and on the red carpet.

Many directors are grappling with this amid the ongoing strike by the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, which prevents actors from publicizing their studio projects.

Filmmaker Atom Egoyan, who will premiere his opera-inspired feature “Seven Veils” at TIFF, said in a recent interview that he has complicated feelings about promoting the movie without its lead, Amanda Seyfried.

“She has put so much of herself in this film and it’s inconceivable that Amanda would not be here,” he said.

The American actress has said that she is proud of the film but would not attend the TIFF premiere even though “Seven Veils,” an independent Canadian movie, received a “waiver” from SAG-AFTRA.

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“It doesn’t feel right to head to the fest in light of the strike,” Seyfried said in a social media post.

Some studios have been trying to secure interim agreements that would allow actors to attend the fest and promote films. Just a few days before the TIFF kickoff, publicists were still pitching interviews with directors whose films include big names, though most have indicated that talent would not be available. In many cases, the pressure to build buzz for a movie is falling on directors.

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Egoyan acknowledged his responsibility to champion a film that Seyfried dedicated so much of herself to.

“Listen, Amanda loves the movie as much as I do and wants so much to support it, but she also must support her union and fellow actors so I get that,” said Egoyan, adding that his Canadian cast will make an appearance.

“Amanda is brilliant in the movie and the hope is that it’ll be over at some point and she can make those rounds, but it just means that for these premieres, the focus is going to be more on everyone else to do the heavy lifting.

“I still admit that it will be strange, especially how personal this film is to me, but there will be less wattage with a focus more on directors, so I don’t know, it’s going to be interesting.”

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D.W. Waterson, the director of the cheer drama “Backspot” starring Devery Jacobs, agrees.

“People have to understand that filmmaking in itself can feel like an isolating experience without parts of your crew,” said Waterson, whose film follows Jacobs’ character as she makes an elite cheer team along with her girlfriend, played by Kudakwashe Rutendo. Their exacting coach is portrayed by Evan Rachel Wood.

“But we’ve been encouraged to lean on each other and work among our community, which festivals like TIFF encourage, even if we’d prefer the alternative of having everyone.”

Waterson was promoting the film solo in the weeks leading up to TIFF, but Jacobs recently posted on social media that the project was “cleared by SAG-AFTRA” and a rep said the actor would participate in the festival.

Charlie Keil, a professor of cinema studies at the University of Toronto, says being forced to promote a film without the star at a major festival is as uncommon as it is uncomfortable.

“Stars draw media attention and know how to handle it well, so the ideal combination is often an auteur director anchored by high-profile, media-familiar talent,” said Keil. “When film festivals often act as the springboards for movies that are less overtly commercial, there’s a comfort level to marrying quirky, difficult-to-explain concepts with name actors who can help with the promotional burden.”

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Keil added that even in cases where interim agreements are secured, the question for stars such as actors-turned-directors is whether they will feel comfortable promoting films if the strike dominates interviews and discussions.

Molly McGlynn, the director of the dramedy “Fitting In,” starring Maddie Ziegler as a teenager dealing with a reproductive disorder, said coming to TIFF without the actress would be “rough.”

“Maddie is so excellent in this film, I selfishly am like, `Oh she deserves to promote and share the work that she’s done. However, the audience will see that and I think her work will speak for itself,” McGlynn, who based the movie on her own experiences with a condition known as MRKH syndrome, said in a recent interview.

“But this film is largely about my life as well so I’m glad that I can come and represent it because it’s so wholly mine, I don’t think there could be anything more personal.”

— With files from Sonja Puzic

&copy 2023 The Canadian Press

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