Spike Lee’s ‘David Byrne’s American Utopia’ to Open TIFF 2020

Photo by David Lee, courtesy of TIFF


By Pat Mullen

The new Spike Lee joint will open the 2020 Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). TIFF announced today that Lee’s film David Byrne’s American Utopia will be the opening night gala at this year’s festival on September 10. The film is Lee’s documentation of Byrne’s acclaimed Broadway show American Utopia, which ran from October 2019 to February 2020. Byrne, a former frontman for the iconic rock group the Talking Heads, joins fellow artists including Toronto’s own Jacquelene Acevedo in celebrating the social and political power of music.

“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 from the festival. “With David Byrne’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.”

David Byrne’s American Utopia marks the second consecutive year in which TIFF selected a music documentary for the opening night slot. Last year’s festival kicked off with Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and the Band, directed by Daniel Roher. It was the first Canadian documentary ever to open the festival.

Lee’s documentation of American Utopia follows on the thundering success of Hamilton released earlier this summer. The film set streaming records on Disney Plus with its filmed version of the hit Broadway musical. David Byrne’s American Utopia will premiere on Bell Media’s Crave day-and-date with the US broadcast on HBO this fall.

Spike Lee is one of America’s most acclaimed and influential filmmakers. He won an Oscar for his screenplay for 2018’s BlacKkKlansman and is known for provocative dramas including Do the Right Thing, Malcolm X, and 25th Hour. His documentaries include the Michael Jackson doc Bad 25, which screened at TIFF 2012 and When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts, which won two Primetime Emmy Awards and three prizes at the Venice Film Festival. It screened at the 2006 edition of TIFF.

This year’s edition of TIFF features a slimmed-down version of the festival with 50 films screening in a mix of in-person and virtual events. TIFF previously announced eight selections, including Ammonite, whose star Kate Winslet will be honoured at the annual TIFF Tribute Gala.

TIFF runs Sept. 10 to 19 2020