Lil Nas X thrills Toronto fans as film fest looks at music

US rapper Lil Nas X arrives for the world premiere of "Lil Nas X: Long Live Montero" at the Toronto International Film Festival -- one of several music documentaries presented at the event (VALERIE MACON)
US rapper Lil Nas X arrives for the world premiere of "Lil Nas X: Long Live Montero" at the Toronto International Film Festival -- one of several music documentaries presented at the event (VALERIE MACON)

Lil Nas X brought his megawatt smile and star power to Toronto for the world premiere of a documentary tracking his meteoric rise -- one of several movies spotlighting the music industry at North America's biggest film festival.

Movies about legendary singer Paul Simon and Canadian rock group Nickelback also got their debut screenings over the weekend at the Toronto International Film Festival.

But the 24-year-old Lil Nas X -- who rocketed to fame with viral country rap hit "Old Town Road" and has since become an icon for the LGBTQ community -- captured all the attention when he stepped onto the red carpet late Saturday.

The artist and his entourage joined fans in the audience for "Lil Nas X: Long Live Montero," which combines footage from his first tour and confessional interviews to explain his breakthrough and watch him navigate his monumental fame.

In the film, the Grammy-winning Georgia native, born Montero Lamar Hill, also explains his decision to openly embrace his queerness in the wake of the blistering success of "Old Town Road," and how it affected his loved ones and his music.

"I felt like coming out was very important if I wanted to progress," Lil Nas X says in the film.

On the red carpet, co-director Zac Manuel emphasized the singer's wider societal influence as an out and proud Black man defying stereotypes with his massive, quirky social media presence and his embrace of edgy fashion.

"I think it's so important to see just a different spectrum of what queerness and Blackness and masculinity looks like, and to be comfortable in that vision, I think, is something that he's bringing to audiences," Manuel told AFP.

In the post-screening question and answer session, Lil Nas X offered this to his cheering fans: "My biggest advice is: do that thing you're most afraid to do."

Saturday's late-night screening started 30 minutes late after a security issue. TIFF's vice president of communications Judy Lung said police briefly looked into "a general threat" nearby that was "not directed at the film or the artist."

Toronto police told AFP in a statement Sunday that "a passerby uttered a threat towards private security," also stressing it was not specific.

But Variety, citing an unnamed source, said a bomb threat was called in by someone who specifically targeted the rapper for being Black and gay.

Lil Nas X's agents did not immediately respond to AFP's request for comment.

- Simon retrospective -

Less than 12 hours after the Lil Nas X screening ended, film buffs in Toronto gathered for the world premiere of "In Restless Dreams: The Music of Paul Simon" -- an engrossing deep dive into the career of the 81-year-old folk-rock icon.

"I've never wanted to be anything but a songwriter and a singer since I was 13," Simon says in the film by Alex Gibney, the Oscar-winning director behind documentaries "Taxi to the Dark Side" and "Going Clear" about the Scientology movement.

The movie splices together archival images from Simon's more than six decades in music, from his fraught partnership with childhood friend Art Garfunkel to his exploration of world music, notably with "Graceland."

It also tracks the development of his latest album "Seven Psalms," which was released in May -- and describes how the Grammy-winning, two-time Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee is coping with deafness in his left ear.

"I really fell into a depression," says Simon, who explains how his creative process has changed because of his condition.

On Friday, Nickelback fans got a double treat -- the premiere of documentary "Hate to Love: Nickelback" and a free performance from the band at the film festival's street fair, which is back in 2023 after a pandemic-induced hiatus.

The group -- best known for the 2001 number one hit "How You Remind Me" -- has also been on the receiving end of wicked criticism over the years for being too formulaic, and the film looks at how that backlash affected band members.

TIFF runs through September 17.