Naomi Watts in ‘Penguin Bloom’ (Photo credit: Hugh Stewart.)

Glendyn Ivin’s Penguin Bloom, the adaptation of Bradley Trevor Greive and Cameron Bloom’s novel starring Naomi Watts, The Walking Dead’s Andrew Lincoln and Jacki Weaver, will have its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival.

The drama produced by Emma Cooper, Watts and Made Up Stories’ Bruna Papandrea, Jodi Matterson and Steve Hutensky is among 50 features in the line-up.

The festival’s 45th edition will run from September 10–19, a combination of physical, socially-distanced screenings, drive-ins, digital screenings, virtual red carpets, press conferences and industry talks.

Penguin Bloom’s selection is another welcome boost for Australian cinema after the news that Roderick MacKay’s The Furnace will have its world premiere in the Horizons section of the Venice International Film Festival.

Scripted by Shaun Grant and Harry Cripps, the film follows Watts as Sam Bloom, a young Sydney woman who broke her back after a railing snapped and fell head-first six metres onto a concrete floor while holidaying with her family in Thailand in 2013.

After being diagnosed as a paraplegic, she slipped into depression and hopelessness until her son Noah found a frail, injured magpie chick. By caring for the little bird, which the family named Penguin for her black and white plumage, she regained her strength and confidence.

Lincoln is Cameron Bloom, Sam’s husband and Weaver is her mother Jan. Newcomers Griffin Murray-Johnston, Felix Cameron and Abe Clifford-Barr, who were discovered in a nationwide search by casting directors Kirsty McGregor and Stevie Ray, play the Bloom’s children.

Rounding out the cast are Rachel House as Sam’s Kiwi kayak coach Gaye Hatfield, Leeanna Walsman as Sam’s sister Kylie and Lisa Hensley as her friend Bron.

“It’s a special story, a moving and hope-filled film,” says Ivin, whose Last Ride premiered in Toronto in 2009. “I was afraid Penguin Bloom would not get a major festival screening after so many were cancelled or postponed.

“I feel lucky that we’ve got a slot among 50 features, especially given how selective the organizers have been.”

Roadshow Films will launch the film on January 1. Endeavour Content is handling international sales. Screen Australia provided major production investment with support from Create NSW.

“The film is made for a broad audience,” Ivin adds. “It is not a family film but a film you can take the family to.”

Grant went to Toronto last year for the premiere of Justin Kurzel’s The True History of the Kelly Gang. “I would’ve loved to have attended again. But, as we know, 2020 is a year like no other, so I’ll be wishing the film well from the relative safety of my living room,” Shaun tells IF.

Cameron Bailey, TIFF’s artistic director and co-head, said: “The pandemic has hit TIFF hard, but we’ve responded by going back to our original inspiration — to bring the very best in film to the broadest possible audience.

“Our teams have had to rethink everything and open our minds to new ideas. We have listened to this year’s urgent calls for greater representation of under-represented voices. You’ll see that this year at the festival.”

This year TIFF is offering companies and individuals the opportunity to gift industry access to 250 under-represented emerging filmmakers from around the world.

Toronto Line-up 2020

180 Degree Rule Farnoosh Samadi | Iran
76 Days Hao Wu, Anonymous, Weixi Chen | USA
Ammonite Francis Lee | United Kingdom
Another Round (Druk) Thomas Vinterberg | Denmark
Bandar Band Manijeh Hekmat | Iran/Germany
Beans Tracey Deer | Canada
Beginning (Dasatskisi) Dea Kulumbegashvili | Georgia/France
The Best is Yet to Come (Bu Zhi Bu Xiu) Wang Jing | China
Bruised Halle Berry | USA
City Hall Frederick Wiseman | USA
Concrete Cowboy Ricky Staub | USA
Opening Night Film – David Byrne’s American Utopia Spike Lee | USA
The Disciple Chaitanya Tamhane | India
Enemies of the State Sonia Kennebeck | USA
Falling Viggo Mortensen | Canada/United Kingdom
The Father Florian Zeller | United Kingdom/France
Fauna Nicolás Pereda | Mexico/Canada
Fireball: Visitors from Darker Worlds Werner Herzog, Clive Oppenheimer | United Kingdom/USA
Gaza mon amour Tarzan Nasser, Arab Nasser | France/Germany/Portugal/Palestine/Qatar
Get the Hell Out (Tao Chu Li Fa Yuan) I-Fan Wang | Taiwan
Good Joe Bell Reinaldo Marcus Green | USA
I Care A Lot J Blakeson | United Kingdom
Inconvenient Indian Michelle Latimer | Canada
The Inheritance Ephraim Asili | USA
Lift Like a Girl (Ash Ya Captain) Mayye Zayed | Egypt/Germany/Denmark
Limbo Ben Sharrock | United Kingdom
Memory House (Casa de Antiguidades) João Paulo Miranda Maria | Brazil/France
MLK/FBI Sam Pollard | USA
The New Corporation: The Unfortunately Necessary Sequel Joel Bakan, Jennifer Abbott | Canada
New Order (Nuevo orden) Michel Franco | Mexico
Night of the Kings (La Nuit des Rois) Philippe Lacôte | Côte d’Ivoire/France/Canada/Senegal
Nomadland Chloé Zhao | USA
No Ordinary Man Aisling Chin-Yee, Chase Joynt | Canada
Notturno Gianfranco Rosi | Italy/France/Germany
One Night in Miami Regina King | USA
Penguin Bloom Glendyn Ivin | Australia
Pieces of a Woman Kornél Mundruczó | USA/Canada/Hungary
Preparations to Be Together For an Unknown Period of Time (Felkészülés meghatározatlan ideig tartó együttlétre) Lili Horvát | Hungary
Quo Vadis, Aïda? Jasmila Žbanić | Bosnia and Herzegovina/Norway/The Netherlands/Austria/Romania/France/Germany/Poland/Turkey
Shadow In The Cloud Roseanne Liang | USA/New Zealand
Shiva Baby Emma Seligman | USA/Canada
Spring Blossom Suzanne Lindon | France
Closing Night Presentation – A Suitable Boy Mira Nair | United Kingdom/India
Summer of 85 (Été 85) François Ozon | France
The Third Day Felix Barrett, Dennis Kelly | United Kingdom
Trickster Michelle Latimer | Canada
True Mothers (Asa Ga Kuru) Naomi Kawase | Japan
Under the Open Sky (Subarashiki Sekai) Miwa Nishikawa | Japan
Violation Madeleine Sims-Fewer, Dusty Mancinelli | Canada
Wildfire Cathy Brady | United Kingdom/Ireland

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