As 2014 prepares the descent into the autumn film season, the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) has unveiled its first lineup of gala and special presentation selections. For the past several years, TIFF has cleverly and not-so-subtly released its screening titles in several waves so as to draw out anticipation; a rather fruitless publicity stunt really, considering its loyal and ever-growing audience. The usual custom for the first round of selections released is to capitalise on big names and award bait, but tends to round them out nicely with veritably quality films from non-Hollywood sources. This year, however, there are two disappointing trends to emerge immediately: 1) the immense dearth of non-American films, and 2) the surplus of films focussing on Old White Men with Issues™.

For me in the past, the major attraction of TIFF was its cinematic diversity – English-speaking films only occupy a portion of the total screenings at TIFF, and American films only a portion of that. This year, USA-led films dominate the gala/special presentations selection, comprising an irritating 71% of all screenings. In contrast, there is only a small handful of French films, a single Spanish-language film, and a mere smattering of other non-English speaking countries in combination. Indeed, as the years progress, TIFF’s slate appears to cater more and more to candidates for American awards and attractions for massive crowds, rather than quality films. I’m sure that Jennifer Aniston attempting to contort her face in a pseudo-dramatic manner is taken under serious consideration by some, but at an international film festival set in the most multicultural city in the world, I’d rather invest my time in a multi-national animated epic based on a renowned Lebanese poet. Moreover, the slightest inclusion of worldly affairs outside of American life must be, naturally, facilitated by an American.

Today’s announcement also coincides with an article from the Guardian, which highlights the rampant and systematic sexism within the film industry, particularly in the crews of both Hollywood and non-Hollywood films. Onscreen, this disparity is only too clear. The trials and tribulations of white men is longstanding and will likely persist until the last syllable of recorded time, but TIFF’s first release of selections highlights just how fortunate we are to be daily witnesses to the heart-wrenching struggles of the symbolic (Old) White Man. Whether it’s the gruelling life of the mob, having affairs with young women less than half their age, domestic troubles, playing at action hero with grim determination, or moments of crippling insecurities of one’s masculine identity, there’s a role for everyone – for all white men, that is. Especially so if they’ve reached a certain age – prehistoric relics like Michael Douglas, Al Pacino, Kevin Costner, and Richard Gere continue to churn out soporific attempts at “career revitalization” and receive laudatory praise from the general press, while unique projects from young female talent are kept below the radar. If they were indeed good actors at one time (debatable, in some cases perhaps), then it is their over-extended shelf life and limpet-like clinging to the spotlight that keeps them somehow relevant – tradition, it seems, is more cogent than cinematic quality.

All is not lost, though – this is only the first wave of films to be released, including for those in the Contemporary World Cinema and Vanguard programmes, and it is more than likely that the selection will only get better (I am on tenterhooks for Nuri Bilge Ceylan’ Kis uykusu). It is entirely probable that the first wave of films released is done so in order to generate maximum buzz for the festival (as if TIFF could do with any more publicity), and having Hollywood stars in attendance – however dubious their actual talent – is a definitive way to get it. It is only my hope that in Mr Bailey’s quest to secure world and North American premieres so fastidiously that he has not lost sight of the joy of attending the festival – for the films that one may only be able to see there, and not at the local multiplex a week later.

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