Ottawa         -     Oscar-nominated actress Naomi Watts has worked with Hollywood icons such as David Lynch and Sean Penn, but admitted Saturday that a magpie stole her scenes in “Penguin Bloom,” premiering at the Toronto film festival. Watts plays Sam Bloom in the real-life drama about a mother who becomes paralyzed in an accidental fall, but is pulled out of despair by caring for an injured baby bird named Penguin. “That made me nervous. How do we get a performance out of a bird and, you know, magpies are famously not super friendly,” Watts told a virtual news conference. 

The movie used some animatronics and CGI, but mostly “a multitude” of live birds, confirmed director Glendyn Ivin. “They absolutely stole the scenes every single day,” said Watts, describing how one used the bathroom on her head on the first day of filming.

Speaking from her home in Australia Sam Bloom said the real Penguin had “brought a bit of excitement and happiness into our house” after the accident “made everyone sad.”

With a pandemic and a closed Canadian border forcing Hollywood stars and media to remain home, North America’s biggest film festival has scrambled to find socially-distanced ways to present this year’s line-up, with movies premiering online and at drive-in screenings

- Through a child’s eyes -

Earlier in Toronto, “Selma” star David Oyelowo unveiled “The Water Man,” marking his directorial debut.

I made it for my 12-year-old self, I made it for those kids who don’t get to see themselves represented in this kind of story,” he said.

                  Written by Emma Needell and backed by Oprah Winfrey, the film follows the adventures of a boy, played by Lonnie Chavis, who seeks out a fabled bogeyman hoping he can cure the terminal cancer plaguing his mother, played by Rosario Dawson.

“It’s very rare to see a black family at the center of this kind of story,” Oyelowo sai

“And I’m not just making it for black and brown people. I’m hoping that white people watch it and see themselves represented in it (too) because I do believe that seeing ourselves in different kinds of people is what engenders empathy and erodes ignorance,” he said.

                  - ‘Falling’ into directing -

“Lord of the Rings” star Viggo Mortensen also realized his dream of directing a movie, premiering “Falling,” about a crotchety and demented father who relentlessly assails his son’s homosexuality.

                  The three-times Oscar-nominated actor last appeared in “Green Book,” which screened at the Toronto film festival before winning a Best Picture Oscar in 2019.

                  “It’s one thing to know me as an actor, but I mean, I haven’t directed anything,” said the 61-year-old, who also stars in the main role.

                  The film shifts between the main character John as a boy, forced into tests of masculinity by his father, and John as an adult living happily as a gay man until his dad (played by Lance Henriksen) comes back into his life, spewing his usual vitriol and rancid homophobia.

                  Producer Daniel Bekerman shared an on-set anecdote to describe Mortensen’s directing resolve: In the film Henriksen wades into the ocean with a lit cigarette, but splashing waves keep extinguishing it.

                  Behind the camera, Mortensen “had multiple lit cigarettes in (his) mouth” to give to Henriksen each time one went out.