Actress Sri Devi's film English Vinglish is also shown in the festival
NORTH America’s largest film festival opens on Thursday (September 6) in Toronto with a wide-ranging trove of new movies and a spotlight on global conflicts and baby boomers’ mortality.
“It’s our most diverse slate ever, with 72 countries represented,” Toronto International Film Festival co-director Cameron Bailey told reporters. “There’s a lot of new filmmakers presenting this year too,” as well as 146 world premieres.
In an increasingly competitive circuit, film festivals are jostling to distinguish themselves from others, touting more and more firsts.
This year Toronto firsts include Ben Affleck’s Argo, which looks back at the storming of the US embassy in Tehran in 1979, and English Vinglish, which marks the comeback of India’s biggest female star, Sridevi.
Bailey noted that many filmmakers this year have focused their lenses on recent unrest in Sri Lanka, the Middle East and elsewhere.
The Toronto film festival, also for the first time, has scheduled talks after each screening with experts, such as political scientist Janice Stein and former Canadian opposition leader Michael Ignatieff.
“We’ve seen these kinds of subjects treated in films before, but we’re hoping to go beyond the initial description of a conflict and offer deeper insights into what is going on,” Bailey said.
He pointed to a documentary portrait of a man who escapes a North Korean labor camp in Camp 14 - Total Control Zone, the quest for UN recognition of Palestine in State 194, and candid interviews with former heads of Israel’s intelligence and security agency Shin Bet in The Gatekeepers.
If global conflicts seem too heavy to go with popcorn and soda, there is also an increasing number of films about aging and death, largely attributable to baby boomers growing older and “facing their own mortality,” Bailey said.
In this category, Dustin Hoffman will be in town for the unveiling of his new film Quartet, about a string quartet’s future hanging in the balance after a member is diagnosed with a life threatening illness.
Closing night film Song For Marion also touches on the end of life, casting Vanessa Redgrave in the role of a curmudgeonly retiree’s beloved wife who falls ill.
The smash success of music documentaries - following last year’s focus on U2, PearNeil Jam and l Young - has spawned a similar series this year.
Artifact follows Jared Leto and his band Thirty Seconds to Mars as they battle their record label in Artifact.
Reincarnated follows rapper Snoop Dogg - now known as Snoop Lion - as he comes to embrace reggae, and a new Spike Lee film looks at the making of Michael Jackson’s Bad album 25 years on, in Bad 25.
The festival opens on Thursday evening with the futuristic time-bending action thriller Looper, starring Bruce Willis, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Emily Blunt, and runs through September 16, showcasing 289 feature films and 83 shorts.
It is the biggest in North America and has traditionally been a key event for Oscar-conscious studios and distributors.
The movie industry is still “clawing its way back” from the 2008 recession, which saw a significant drop-off in the buying of film distribution rights at the Toronto film festival, according to Bailey.
But the festival remains a popular venue.
This year stars including Jackie Chan, Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Bill Murray, Robert Redford, Robert De Niro, Colin Firth, James Franco, Adam Sandler, Salman Rushdie, Will Smith and Johnny Depp are expected to grace the red carpet.
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