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Toronto International Film Festival announces 2020 line-up: which Arab films will make their debut?

A film about a Syrian asylum seeker who finds himself on a remote Scottish island, a romance set in Gaza and a documentary about female weightlifting in Egypt are among the films screening at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival.

The festival, known as Tiff, will run predominately online between Thursday, September 10, and Saturday, September 19, with 50 films included in the newly released line-up.

Due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, most screenings will take place virtually, with the event opening with a debut showing of Spike Lee’s documentary David Byrne’s American Utopia, focused on the former Talking Heads frontman’s Broadway show.

A screening of Mira Nair’s six-episode adaptation of Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy, meanwhile, will close the festival, which is in its 45th year.

“We began this year planning for a festival much like our previous editions, but along the way we had to rethink just about everything,” said Tiff’s artistic director, Cameron Bailey, in a statement.

“This year’s line-up reflects that tumult. The names you already know are doing brand new things this year, and there’s a whole crop of exciting new names to discover.”

The festival’s full schedule will be released on Tuesday, August 25, but the 50 films announced so far also include Halle Berry’s directorial debut Bruised, about a former mixed martial arts fighter struggling to regain custody of her son, and Good Joe Bell, a drama starring Mark Wahlberg as a father who walks across America to raise awareness about bullying following the death of his son.

Ammonite, starring Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan, Viggo Mortensen’s directorial debut Falling, and Regina King’s debut behind the camera, One Night in Miami, will also be showcased.

Among the line-up is a screening of Gaza Mon Amour, a romance by Palestinian filmmakers Tarzan and Arab Nasser. The brothers’ Arabic satire is set in Gaza, where a fisherman discovers an Ancient Greek statue, in a tale inspired by a similar real-life case in 2014.

Iranian director Farnoosh Samadi’s 180 Degree Rule, a drama about a teacher from Tehran who makes a family-altering decision when forbidden from attending a wedding by her husband, will also show at this year’s Tiff.

Manijeh Hekmat’s Bandar Band, which follows a music group’s journey across a flooded Tehran, will screen, as well as Mayye Zayed’s Ash Ya Captain (Lift Like a Girl), a documentary that follows an aspiring female teen weightlifter in Alexandria, Egypt.

Black comedy Limbo, meanwhile, by director Ben Sharrock, follows a Syrian asylum seeker – played by Egyptian-British actor Amir El-Masry – living on a small Scottish island.

According to Variety, female filmmakers are behind nearly half of the titles that will showcase at this year’s festival. Forty-six per cent of the films have been directed or co-directed by women, up from 36 per cent last year.

“We’ve reached a watershed moment where the entire film world is embracing the fact that women’s voices have been underrepresented for too long,” added Bailey. “Now is the time where we can bring more of these films to the fore.”