TORONTO 2011: IT ALL STARTS NOW

FROM THE CANADIAN PRESS

There’s a rock & roll soundtrack to this year’s TORONTO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL — which kicks off today with the help of the U2 documentary FROM THE SKY DOWN — but Hollywood heavyweights will no doubt be making the most noise on the circuit, with GEORGE CLOONEY, BRAD PITT, RALPH FIENNES and GLENN CLOSE among the A listers anchoring big screen OSCAR bait.

Several luminaries are actually offering up more than one project at the 11 day movie marathon: GEORGE CLOONEY, CAREY MULLIGAN, GERARD BUTLER and MICHAEL SHANNON each appear in at least two films unspooling through SEPTEMBER 18.

Ditto that for Canadian SCOTT SPEEDMAN.

So far, hotly anticipated titles include the GEORGE CLOONEY/RYAN GOSLING political thriller THE IDES OF MARCH, BRAD PITT’S baseball drama MONEYBALL, MADONNA’S sophomore directing bid W.E. and RALPH FIENNES’ Shakespearean actioner CORIOLANUS. Despite the festival’s reputation as a harbinger for awards season success, codirector CAMERON BAILEY was reluctant to forecast what’s in store for this year’s crop.

“I leave the predictions to our audience. They seem to have a very good sense of what’s going to work for months and months and what are going to be the biggest films of the year,” he said, noting that the past three PEOPLE’S CHOICE picks at the fest have gone on to compete for a BEST PICTURE OSCAR.

“Last year The King’s Speech was given its first prize here by our audience and the year before that it was Precious. So I’ll wait to see what they warm to and as the days of the festival pass on I think we’ll really come to understand which films are exciting them most.”

Fest director PIERS HANDLING was more game, pointing to MONEYBALL and IDES as the most likely crowd pleasers.

Although many of the features headed here have already courted audiences at other festivals, it’s a whole new game once they arrive in Toronto, remarked veteran filmmaker NORMAN JEWISON.

That largely has to do with the fest’s key calendar position in the fall, when serious dramas begin to flood theatres and the intense OSCAR race begins.

“Everything is timing,” Mr. Jewison commented.

“When the Toronto film festival started, the one smart thing they did was say: ‘September. We’re going to have our festival in September.’ And why they did that was because the major distributors of film throughout the world — MGM, Paramount, 20th Century Fox, Columbia Pictures, all these distributors and all the European distributors worldwide — made the most important films in the fall….Cannes, unfortunately, is in the spring — disastrous choice of timing.”

Still, Toronto’s heavyweight slate does include notable gaps — veteran director CLINT EASTWOOD chose to skip Toronto as he readies his LEONARDO DICAPRIO vehicle J. EDGAR for theatrical release, while favourite son JASON REITMAN is bypassing the fest as he readies the CHARLIZE THERON dramedy YOUNG ADULT.

PIERS HANDLING said each film has its own marketing plan.

“Paramount and Jason decided that this film was not going to go to festivals. They made that decision. We’re totally respectful of that decision. We fought tooth and nail for every single film that’s out there that’s not in this festival and they decided to go ahead with a different release strategy.”

He noted that while not every film is suited to the Toronto festival, neither is the festival suited to every film.

“There’s a huge financial investment at play here and some people just decide that it’s best to go (straight) into release day. They don’t want to build up the press twice — come to Toronto, do the big press hit, pay for everyone to come up and then maybe two months later try and regenerate that activity when their film actually goes into the marketplace. For other films, of course, they have no hesitation doing that – The King’s Speech being one of those examples.”

A film without great commercial expectations stands to benefit most from Toronto’s buzz laden fest, while big films with heavyweight backers can more easily skip the festival, he explained.

“Clint Eastwood is a director who’s very, very well known. He’s extremely particular. He goes to festivals with some of his films, he doesn’t go to festivals with others of his films. Martin Scorsese is another one of those directors. It really is filmmaker by filmmaker — it depends on the time of their career, whether they are early in their career, late in their career, whether they are established….You have to almost restart and every single year is a new festival, a new series of relationships.”

New for the festival this year is the selection of a documentary to open the 11 day showcase.

DAVIS GUGGENHEIM’S FROM THE SKY DOWN examines U2’S musical reinvention with 1991’s ACHTUNG BABY and is said to feature intimate interviews, archival footage and live performances.

With members of the band expected to walk the red carpet Thursday, festival organizers promise a raucous opening night gala that will set an exuberant tone for the fest.

Other music related films feature music gods PEARL JAM (in CAMERON CROWE’S PEARL JAM TWENTY), NEIL YOUNG (in JONATHAN DEMME’S NEIL YOUNG JOURNEYS) and PAUL McCARTNEY (in AL MAYSLES’ THE LOVE WE MAKE).

“I just hope none of these rock stars trash our red carpet,” joked CAMERON BAILEY.

“Last year, of course, we had Bruce Springsteen in town for the festival and I think this year we’re lucky enough to have these incredible musicians….It’s a natural relationship, I think, between movies and music and it’s great that we have them both going on this year.”

This year’s marathon will also establish film festivities more firmly in the festival’s new home, the TIFF BELL LIGHTBOX. The gleaming facility features state of the art soft seat theatres, high end eateries and window lined conference space.

CAMERON BAILEY predicted the new venue would bring the film community closer together, since events will be more tightly clustered in a denser section of downtown.

“You’re going to have people bumping into each other, rubbing shoulders a little bit more as filmmakers are rushing to their screenings in this neighbourhood and audiences are rushing to catch the next movie.”

“I’m hoping that it’ll feel more like kind of a block party – all 11 days long.”

The fest concludes on SEPTEMBER 18 with DAVID HARE’S spy thriller PAGE 8.

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