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Screen Scene: The Toronto International Film Festival

Producers, start your engines. This is where the Oscar race begins. It’s no coincidence, of course, that the 31st annual Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) is scheduled for September 7 to 16—just enough time to launch a movie and get critical hype before the voting happens for the Golden Globes and Academy Awards. That’s why the industry loves it, and why Roger Ebert has called it the most important, most influential festival in the world.

If you’re not a hotshot director or a star with a statuette in your future, you may be wondering, “what’s in it for me?” The films. One of the beauties of the festival is its accessibility. Unlike many such events around the world, it’s easy to get yourself into screenings. TIFF is audience-friendly, designed to pack the houses with movie lovers and industry insiders alike.

To make sense of the more than 300 films that will show at TIFF, planners organize the entrant movies into 16 themed programmes.

World premieres, top-rank stars, glitz and glamour: These shows at Roy Thomson Hall (at the corner of King and Simcoe streets) are the biggies—the red-carpet moments that will be seen on TVs around the world.

Don’t Miss: The ensemble drama All the King’s Men, a yarn of political intrigue inspired by the career of Huey P. Long, former governor of Louisiana. (See Spot the Star! for some of the star-studded cast.)
Not every film can get top billing as a gala. But all kinds of Oscar contenders, box-office smashes and critical darlings run throughout the festival, especially in the Special Presentations category, which focuses on major films with major backing. Last year’s Capote premiered in this programme, as did the stark mytho-flick Beowulf & Grendel.

Don’t Miss: A touch of levity—TIFF isn’t just about high art—in The Pleasure of Your Company. In this lighthearted romantic comedy, a lovelorn loser (played by Jason Biggs of American Pie) proposes to a virtual stranger (played by Isla Fisher who, by coincidence, is engaged in real life to Sacha Baron Cohen of Borat). Families meet. Worlds collide. Hijinks ensue. Upping the star quotient are Parker Posey (in Fay Grim), Vince Vaughn (in Vince Vaughn’s Wild West Comedy Show), Brittany Murphy (in Love and Other Disasters), a Spanish-speaking Viggo Mortensen (in Alatriste), Harvey Keitel (in the French-language Un Crime), Morgan Freeman and Paz Vega (in 10 Items or Less), and Giovanni Ribisi, Mena Suvari and Don Cheadle (all in The Dog Problem).MIDNIGHT MADNESS
This series presents lots of counter-culture fun: thrillers, hard-edged music, gore and other freaky stuff better not seen by the light of day—like Hostel, which showed last year.

Don’t Miss: For off-the-wall, unpredictable antics (really, this red carpet will be one to watch for), keep an eye on Sacha Baron Cohen’s Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan. Cohen, an English actor, created the character of Kazakh reporter Borat Sagdiyev for his TV program Da Ali G Show. His portrayal of the sexist, lewd and anti-semitic Borat (Cohen himself is Jewish) and his depiction of Kazakhstan as an intellectual and cultural backwater so insulted that country’s government that it has threatened the actor with legal charges. The film, directed by Larry Charles (once a staff writer for Seinfeld) is bound to ruffle more feathers and garner oodles of press.

Filmmakers may not be household names in North America, but they should be if you’re a lover of the silver screen. These are flicks by some of the best directors, producers and actors from around the world. Past programmes have featured work by Lars von Trier, Steven Soderbergh, Ang Lee and Martin Scorsese.

Don’t Miss: The North American premiere of The Wind That Shakes the Barley, which picked up the highest prize—the Palme d’Or—at Cannes this year. Director Ken Loach sketches the lives of of two brothers fighting for Irish independence in the 1920s.
This series puts real life on the screen, with documentaries that include 13 world premieres and another dozen international, North American or Canadian premieres.
Don’t Miss: Dixie Chicks—Shut Up And Sing, a deconstruction of fame, fortune and freedom of speech as experienced by the country group the Dixie Chicks after publicly criticizing George W. Bush. This doc marks the first time in 14 years that a documentary has received Gala Presentation treatment. Other highlights include docs on gang warfare in Haiti (Ghosts of Cité Soleil), blind mountain climbers on Mount Everest (Blindsight), late Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain (Kurt Cobain: About a Son), and a biography on iconic director John Waters (This Filthy World).

In the words of festival co-director Noah Cowan, these films “push the envelopes of technology, culture, sexuality and cinema itself.” In other words, social conservatives need not apply.

Don’t Miss: A variety of celebs who reach beyond their normal bounds. Ex-MuchMusic VJ Sook-Yin Lee goes full-monty in the very sexually explicit Shortbus. In Sleeping Dogs Lie, frantic comic actor Bobcat Goldthwait directs the story of a girl who confides her deepest and darkest secrets to her boyfriend, only to have her world unravel. And Mexican heartthrob Gael García Bernal (who also appears in the festival screening of Babel) executive produces Drama/Mex, where teen hookers and young love triangles intrude on the life of a middle-aged paper-pusher.

More than a screening, films in the Dialogues: Talking with Pictures programme offer a discussion with one of their pivotal players. Last year, Liza Minnelli took the mic before the recently rediscovered Bob Fosse special, Liza with a “Z.”

Other programmes at this year’s festival include Visions (exploring innovative cinema), Canada First! (emerging homegrown talent), Contemporary World Cinema (Cannes’ 2006 Jury Prize winner Red Road is featured), Discovery (a launch pad for new and emerging directors), Short Cuts Canada (Canadian short films) and Wavelengths (experimental). Mavericks features gossip, secrets and previews from industry insiders and personalities; in 2005, festival patrons heard from producer Ivan Reitman and stop-motion animator Nick Park.

TIP! Here to seal a film deal? Official festival restaurant, Yorkville’s new 5th Element (1033 Bay St., 416-923-8159), is the place.

The low down on how to score yourself some tickets—you might be rubbing elbows with a celebrity in Get Inside

Who’s in town this month? Find out in Spot the Star!

Now that you know who’s in town, where to find them, from shops to coffee shops Who, Me? Stalking?

Many TIFF debuts go on to get the coveted golden guy himself. See past winners in Oscar Preview.
—Robert Maurin

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