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Frears to get gala treatment at Toronto film festival

Arts Editor

Friday, August 4, 2000

Toronto -- British director Stephen Frears will join the elite ranks of Martin Scorsese, Robert Duvall and Warren Beatty in September when he's the subject of the Toronto International Film Festival's gala tribute.

While the festival has celebrated film types regularly in its 25-year history, the gala tribute -- which comes with a presentation of film clips, in-person testimonials from past and current colleagues, a question-and-answer session and a swank dinner -- is a decidedly rarer event.

Indeed, such fetes are usually associated with the festival's earlier days -- the Duvall gala, for instance, was held in 1983 -- when Toronto was trying to establish itself as a player on the international circuit.

In making the announcement yesterday, Piers Handling, the Toronto festival's director, acknowledged that putting on a gala tribute "costs a lot of money and takes up a lot of time," but he felt his event's quarter-century mark needed something like it "to create excitement and energy around the whole thing."

The Frears event will be held at Toronto's Roy Thomson Hall on Sept. 9. Tickets are now on sale and range in cost from $53.50 to $80.25.

Frears, 59, has been a favourite of the Toronto film event for many years. Several of his films have received either their North American or world premiere here, including The Hit (1984), My Beautiful Laundrette (1985), Sammy and Rosie Get Laid (1987), The Grifters (1990) and The Snapper (1993).

True to form, Frears will be bringing his latest feature, Liam, to the 2000 festival for its North American premiere. The movie, which stars Ian Hart (who played John Lennon in 1993's Backbeat), follows the changing fortunes of a Liverpool family in Depression-era Britain as its once secure life plummets into poverty.

Speaking from his home in England yesterday, Frears said he was notified that he would be the focus of a gala "only 10 days ago." Prior to that, he had planned to show Liam in Toronto, but "kind of hadn't decided" if he actually would attend this year's festival. Handling's announcement made up his mind for him.

Frears, who's perhaps best known internationally for his 1988 hit Dangerous Liaisons, says he's very fond of Toronto. "If you make European films, it's a very good launching pad for those films into North America. The city is at a sort of crossroads, like I stand at the crossroads, I guess, between doing independent British productions and working with the Hollywood world."

Handling said that Frears was "a logical choice" for being honoured at the 25th annual festival. Indeed, he sees Frears's career and "the complete ease with which he moves between the British independent scene and the Hollywood system," as a kind of one-man metaphor for the Toronto event itself. Besides the quality of his film work, Frears also has collaborated with some of the world's best writers, Handling said, including Christopher Hampton (Dangerous Liaisons), Hanif Kureishi (Sammy and Rosie Get Laid) and Roddy Doyle (The Snapper).

When told that his gala likely will feature such stars as John Cusack (whom Frears directed in this year's High Fidelity as well as in The Grifters), George Clooney (whom he directed in the TV broadcast of Fail Safe), and Glenn Close and Uma Thurman gushing at length about his merits, Frears chuckled. "That sounds like a complete nightmare. Maybe I'll have to do something else that evening."

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