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GameStop stock frenzy, true crime in focus at Toronto film fest

By Susan Stumme / AFP Published Sep 09, 2023 9:52 am

The Toronto International Film Festival on Friday served up two world premieres based on stranger-than-fiction true stories: Dumb Money, about the GameStop stock trading mania, and Woman of the Hour, about a serial killer's chilling appearance on a 1970s game show.

TIFF, the biggest film festival in North America, has opened with a stacked lineup of debuts and marquee screenings against the backdrop of a strike by Hollywood actors and writers over pay, the use of artificial intelligence in art, and other issues.

The effects of that strike were felt at both high-profile premieres, with none of the cast members present in a show of solidarity with the Screen Actors Guild (SAG-AFTRA) walkout.

Dumb Money director Craig Gillespie turned up with his production team to support the Sony Pictures release about the amateur investors who turned GameStop into a Wall Street phenomenon in 2021.

The film—which earned enthusiastic cheers from the audience—follows Keith Gill (Paul Dano), who invested his life savings in GameStop and posted on social media about it under the username Roaring Kitty. 

Other small-time investors got in on the tip, and the so-called "meme stock" blew up amid wild trading in January 2021. 

The surge was seen as driven at least in part by retail investors communicating on the Reddit platform who banded together to retaliate against short sellers like hedge fund billionaire Gabe Plotkin (Seth Rogen). 

In the post-screening question and answer session, Gillespie explained that his son got in on the GameStop madness, and so he had a front-row seat to "the outrage and the frustration" of ordinary people in the face of Wall Street power.

"This story gives a voice to the little guy, and takes us on a wild, subversive ride that hopefully, in some small part, shines a light on the disparity of wealth in this country," he said in pre-screening notes offered to the media.

The film opens in theaters in select North American cities on Sept. 15.

Kendrick makes directorial debut

Earlier in the day, Oscar-nominated actress Anna Kendrick (Up in the Air, Pitch Perfect) made her directorial debut -- and starred -- in "Woman of the Hour," about a murderer who was a contestant on "The Dating Game" in the midst of his 1970s killing spree.

Each episode of the popular US television show featured three bachelors who answered questions from a woman hidden behind a wall, who would choose the winner based on their responses. The couple would go on a trip paid for by the show.

Kendrick plays struggling actress Cheryl Bradshaw, who went on the show to get exposure. The killer, Rodney Alcala, won the date with Bradshaw-- but his worrying behavior gave her pause. Years later, he was arrested. 

The film recounts the real-life story of Alcala, but also makes a statement about the everyday predatory behavior of men as experienced by women -- the unwanted advances, uncomfortable comments, and the failure to believe victims.

"I truly cannot express how proud I am to have the world premiere of 'Woman of the Hour' at TIFF. It is more than a dream come true. I am heartbroken to not be with you all," Kendrick said in a statement read out by producer Miri Yoon.

"As proud as we are of this film, we are equally proud to stand with our union in demanding fair wages."

Alcala was eventually sentenced to death in California and died in prison.

Nickelback in concert

The Toronto film fest has been a launchpad for numerous Oscar-winning films in years past, and the filmmakers behind the 2023 crop of starry projects are hoping some of that awards pixie dust will be sprinkled on them.

Also on Friday, French filmmaker Ladj Ly unveiled "Les Indesirables," a follow-up look at marginalized communities in the suburbs of Paris four years after his Oscar-nominated debut feature "Les Miserables."

TIFF returned to full strength in 2022, after two years of online or hybrid events staged amid the coronavirus pandemic. This year, the TIFF street festival was revived, with Canadian rock group Nickelback performing Friday to promote their new documentary.

The festival in Canada's largest city runs until Sept. 17. (AFP)