Francois Girard's Song of Names to open Calgary International Film Festival; Atom Egoyan's Guest of Honour to close

From the film, The Song of Names. Courtesy, the Calgary International Film Festival. Calgary

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The Calgary International Film Festival 20th year will open and close with new films from two of Canada’s most acclaimed directors.

The festival, which runs from Sept. 18-29, will open with French-Canadian director François Girard’s The Song of Names as part of a red carpet gala at the Jack Singer Concert Hall.

Atom Egoyan’s Guest of Honour will be one of two films screened at the closing gala at the Globe Cinema on Sept. 28, the second last day of the festival. It will coincide with a block party. The festival has not announced the second film that will screen that day.

Girard is best known for music-centred films such as 1998’s The Red Violin and 1993’s Thirty Two Short Films About Glenn Gould. Based on the novel by Norman Lebrecht, The Song of Names stars British actors Tim Roth and Clive Owen as friends and musicians whose lives are disrupted by the Second World War. The film unfolds over half-a-century and has been described as a “emotional detective story” and focuses on the fate of a violin prodigy.

“It’s a lovely film,” says festival artistic director Brian Owens. “It is Canadian but was shot entirely in England, where the story is set. It’s got this beautiful, strong emotional pull that will leave the audience satisfied. When they see the next-to-last scene, they’ll know why we picked it for our opening.”

Owens said guests from the film have been invited to walk the red carpet but had not been confirmed.

David Thewlis in the film Guest of Honour. Courtesy, the Calgary International Film Festival. Calgary

Written and directed by Atom Egoyan, Guest of Honour is a drama starring David Thewlis as a food inspector whose daughter, a high-school teacher, is imprisoned after being accused of abusing her authority with a 17-year-old student. Laysla De Oliveira, Rossif Sutherland and Luke Wilson co-star.

The two films were among dozens announced Wednesday morning by Owens, who revealed the lion’s share of 113 features that will screen over the 11-day festival. Other high-profile picks include Bong Joon-ho’s satire Parasite, this year’s winner of the Palme d’Or at Cannes; and Israeli filmmaker Nadav Lapid’s Berlin International Film Festival 2019 Golden Bear winner Synonyms. The festival will also screen another Cannes favourite, Céline Sciamma’s Portrait of a Lady on Fire, which picked up the Queer Palme prize for its story of a painter who falls for her female subject in the 18th Century. The Brazilian film Bacurau, which Hollywood Reporter describes as a “neo-Western folk tale,” will screen in Calgary after picking up the Jury Prize at Cannes.

Documentaries such as Miles Davis: Birth of Cool and One Child Nation, which chronicles the toll that China’s controversial one-child-policy has on families, will also screen, as will For Sama, which follows a Syrian mother as she attempts to create a video diary for her baby daughter in the face of war. Honeyland chronicles the plight of Europe’s last female bee-hunter.

From the film Z. Courtesy, the Calgary International Film Festival. Calgary

Local films announced on Wednesday include Scott Sikma’s family movie, Root of the Problem, and Brandon Christensen’s thriller Z. The festival will also screen American Woman, which is based on the kidnapping of Patty Hearst and political activism in the 1970s. It is the directorial debut of Calgary expat Semi Chellas, an Emmy-winning screenwriter and producer of Mad Men.

Other hotly anticipated titles include Ira Sachs’ Frankie, which stars Marisa Tomei, Greg Kinnear and Isabelle Huppert in a drama about a dying actress who embarks on one last vacation to Portugal with various members of her family.

Renee Zellweger in Judy. Courtesy, the Calgary International Film Festival. Calgary

Actress Renee Zellweger is also generating Oscar buzz for her lead performance in Rupert Goold’s Judy, which chronicles a series of shows Judy Garland did in London in 1968.

“That’s really what our job is, which is to lead people to things that they know they want and get it to them first,” says Owens. “But also to use big films like Judy as almost like a gateway: it’s easy, it’s accessible and has got names they know. The hope is they come, they witness the community that develops around the festival and feel like they need more of this. That’s when we can help steer them to that small Canadian film by a first-time filmmaker.”

The Calgary International Film Festival runs from Sept. 18 to 29. For a full lineup visit