As August winds down, with evenings getting cooler and the days shorter, two things are as inevitable as snow in Canada: Hockey training camps will be opening across the country, and the Toronto International Film Festival will be gearing up for another round of shmoozing and boozing.
With the glitch in the hockey world last year it was up to the festival to ensure continuity in the lives of Torontonians. As it enters its thirtieth year, the festival has grown from a small event showing highlights of other festivals to its current status of being “…more useful and more important than Cannes” according to Roger Ebert.
According to Piers Handling, festival director, of this year’s 256 features, 109 will be world premieres, 28 international premiers, and another 78 will be making their North American debuts. Of special interest this year will be the offering of a retrospective of 100 years of Chinese cinema to commemorate 35 years of diplomatic relations between Canada and China.
Although the Toronto festival still tries to remember that it is held in a Canadian city by making obligatory nods to Canadian filmmakers, its true function is to act as a launch pad for Oscar nominations. With the Academy’s short-term memory, it makes an ideal time to launch a movie for end of year consideration.
This explains the increased presence each year of Hollywood heavyweights behind the camera and on screen. This year promises to be no exception with the likes of Anthony Hopkins, Viggo Mortensen, Morgan Freeman, Natalie Portman, and Kevin Spacey representing the acting class and films by such stalwarts as Roman Polanski, Martin Scorcese, and Terry Gilliam all premiering.
Proving that Canadians can be as weird as the next guy, two directors who actually got here on merit are David Cronenberg and Atom Egoyan. Both have their usual controversial film offerings this year: Cronenberg’s A History of Violence, starring the aforementioned Viggo Mortensen, and Egoyan’s Where The Truth Lies, starring Colin Firth and Kevin Bacon.
Otherwise, with few exceptions, Canadian films are relegated to competing for The Toronto City Award for best Canadian feature film, and the CityTV award for best Canadian feature. Of course this has produced some memorable moments like Bruce Macdonald’s comments on accepting his winning check of $50,000 for the movie Highway 61: “I’m going to go out and buy the biggest chunk of hash I can find.”
But that was fourteen years ago when we were all young and innocent. I doubt that he’d even be allowed near a microphone anymore if the organizers thought there was a chance of him saying something like that.
The Festival has outgrown its carefree days and is concerned with being the centre of the wheeling and dealing universe that is movie making today. Distribution deals are signed, promotional parties are staged, and Academy Awards are coveted. For everyWhale Rider shown there will be three Chariots of Fire.
This year’s festival continues its mainstream direction, opening with the world premiere of Deepa Mehta’s Water and closing with Edison, a crime drama staring Kevin Spacey, Morgan Freeman, and Justine Timberlake. For the 10 days following the September 8th kick-off, Toronto will be turned into the glamour capital of the world.
Twenty years ago Toronto suffered from a severe case of “big city envy” and has continually striven to obtain what it considers its rightful place on the world stage. Although she has failed in attempts to land such feature attractions like the Olympic Games she now can hold claim to being host of one of the most influential film festivals in the world. For the city that sometimes tries too hard to look sophisticated, this should ease their fear of being known only for its clean subways.