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Festwatch

48-hour party people

It was super-weekend at TIFF. Our team reports from the front lines on the stars, the parties, and why Clooney finds love scenes fun

From Monday's Globe and Mail

Toronto — Saturday

2:30 a.m.

Late nights and early mornings are par for the course at TIFF. Killer Films, producers of Helen Hunt's directorial debut Then She Found Me, inks a reported $2-million distribution deal with ThinkFilm for U.S. rights. Canadian rights, French and English, went to Montreal's TVA Films. Then - which Hunt has been working on for almost eight years, off and on, as co-writer and co-producer - came to TIFF looking for distributorship and got it less than seven hours after its world premiere at the Elgin Theatre. Others bidding for U.S. rights include The Weinstein Co. and Lionsgate.

10 a.m.

Michael Moore, who created a bit of a buzz when he showed up on the red carpet Friday night sans ball cap, is back to his regular self today, defending his new documentary Captain Mike Across America against critics who charge it is a vanity project - and, of course, offering his take on the 2008 American presidential election.

The Democrats, he says, will win in a landslide. But he immediately gives himself an out, saying Democrats are also "professionals at screwing things up."

Moore also notes that his latest documentary, Sicko, recently edged out An Inconvenient Truth as the third most successful documentary of all time, behind his own Fahrenheit 9/11 and Bowling for Columbine. "But I understand Al Gore's asking for a recount," he adds.

11 a.m.

Juno, described sarcastically by its writer, first-time screenwriter Diablo Cody, as "an all-American comedy about the scourge of teenage pregnancy," is proving to be one of this year's surprise festival gems. Juno's director, Jason Reitman, son of Ivan, tells a press conference that the film resonated with him at a time when he was becoming a father for the first time. "My daughter is the daughter of a director and the granddaughter of a director, so she'll probably be very screwed up," he says. "She'll be pregnant by the time she's 12."

Actor Jason Bateman, when asked about what it was like being reunited with Michael Cera, his on-screen son from the TV show Arrested Development, is all yucks: "We don't have any scenes together, but I like the subtle through-line of incest whereby I'm adopting his child," he says, causing the painfully shy Cera to blush.

12 p.m.

The female television camera operator waiting for the press conference for Eastern Promises says she is half-Russian, and while she isn't sure what she thinks about David Cronenberg's new film, she offers one endorsement: "Viggo Mortensen's Russian accent? Impeccable."

For Mortensen, who speaks English, Danish and Spanish fluently, and can handle himself in French, Italian, Swedish and Norwegian, one more language on his resumé is apparently no big deal. "When you're speaking a different language, you feel differently," he says. "It's not just the muscles in your mouth, but your posture and the way you present yourself."

French co-star Vincent Cassels says he and Mortensen "tried to use as much Russian as possible because, to be realistic, when two Russian characters are speaking together, they wouldn't be speaking English, so we kept trying to add more Russian phrases. David Cronenberg was going, 'What are you two saying to each other?' "

"It was like some creeping disease," Cronenberg says. "You wake up one morning and everyone is speaking Russian."

A cadre of actors dressed in maroon-and-gold track suits pass out orange Tic Tacs to bewildered passers-by at the corner of Bloor and Bay. They're promoting Juno. A Tic Tac obsession is but one quirk of the sweet high-school track star played by Michael Cera, who, thanks to the enduring love for his cancelled series Arrested Development and his star turn in the summer hit Superbad, has one of the hottest careers going right now. In the film, Junoname of character (the astonishing Ellen Page) tells him: "You're so cool, and you don't even try." His reply always gets a laugh: "I try really hard, actually."

Matt Damon, Ben Affleck and Don Cheadle come out in force to support Africa, a cause close to their hearts. They're all at the Royal Cinema for a private screening of the documentary Running the Sahara - narrated and co-produced by Damon - about three extreme marathoners who crossed six countries, and 7,200 kilometres, in 111 days. Damon takes to the stage to present the film, thanking music superstars Wyclef Jean (also in attendance) and Bono for supplying songs for the soundtrack. Bono planned to come to the screening, Damon says, but had to cancel to attend Luciano Pavarotti's funeral. Also warming seats at the screening was Eddie Vedder (Pearl Jam) and Canadian Idol judge Farley Flex. Later that night, Damon and his wife, and Canadian heartthrob Kevin Segers (The Jane Austen Book Club), showed up together at the CTV bash supporting the film.

2:15 p.m.

No Country for Old Men, the movie, is a superbly eloquent adaptation of novelist Cormac McCarthy's plunge into the dark logic of violence. No Country for Old Men, the press conference, is ... well, not quite so articulate. Asked to expand on his attitude toward graphic screen violence, Ethan, the shorter of the directing Coen brothers, responds with a long silence broken by a staccato laugh and, "Aaah, you know, ah, eeeh."

Asked to comment on the symbolism of the barren landscapes that mark both this film and their earlier Fargo, bro Joel rises to the challenge with much greater dispatch to venture this illuminating gem: "Aaah, uhmm, I'm not sure".

In Joel's defence, he does wax eloquent when questioned about his decision to cast the great Spanish actor, Javier Bardem, in the key role of the cold-hearted killer: "These sorts of casting things are really hard to describe. It's almost kind of ineffable".

Aaah, eeeh, uhmm, ineffable indeed. Don't miss the movie, but file those Coen boys under the category of, "Directors in dire need of direction".

4 p.m.

George Clooney remains the undisputed king of charm. At a press conference to chat about his new drama, Michael Clayton, the actor says his favourite scene in the legal thriller about corporate corruption was definitely his love scene with Tilda Swinton - adding it was clearly hers, too. "She'd knock on my trailer door and say 'George, let's practice our love scene.' We worked very hard on that," he adds, grinning. But it's no-go territory when a reporter asks about the beautiful model Sarah Larson, with whom he was photographed in Venice. "Good question," Clooney tells the reporter. "Next question. When have I ever answered a personal question? Good for you. Have a nice day." Asked later about a film that moves him and makes him cry, Clooney doesn't miss a beat and quips "the premiere of Batman & Robin" (in which he starred in rubber in 1997)."

One gushing reporter called the devilish grinning actor a "cunning linguist." To which he retorted, "I don't want to say that out loud."

At Bistro 990, the favourite old-guard festival haunt, champagne is being served and hugs and air kisses are being exchanged. It's the McClelland & Stewart event to launch the new book Starring Brian Linehan: A Life Behind the Scenes about the life and times of the late super-interviewer and City Lights host who was a fixture at TIFF for years. Author George Anthony, a former competitor and close friend of Linehan's, sits in the corner getting writer's cramp from autographing a dwindling stack of copies of the book. Starring Brian Linehan tells of Linehan's life growing up in a large family in Hamilton, where he was supposed to end up working at the steel mill, not jetting to Hollywood to see friends such as Bea Arthur, Candice Bergen and Joan Rivers, who wrote the book's introduction

Linehan was famous as a researcher and gossip who knew everything about everyone. So, naturally, the guests are busy rifling through the index to check what the book had to say about them.

"I decided," says Anthony, "not to write the book that Brian would have written about himself but the book he would have enjoyed reading."

8:30 p.m.

At the Scotiabank Theatre, programmer Steve Gravestock introduces the Danish film Erik Nietzsche: The Early Years - a deadpan comedy about a rebellious film school student in Copenhagen in the 1980s - by saying, "This is the easiest programming decision I made all year. If I hadn't booked this film, I should be fired." The script is credited to "Erik Nietzsche," but it's the worst-kept secret at TIFF that it was actually written by Lars von Trier, based "90 per cent" on his life and tweaked "10 per cent by me," says the director, Jacob Thuesen. Why the pseudonym? "I had worked with Lars a few years ago [on the TV series Kingdom Hospital], and it was not an all-time success," Thuesen says. (Von Trier has a long-standing reputation for crazy behaviour.) "It was kind of nice working with him now to pretend it was another person." The film's pretentious professors and directors are all based on real people in the Danish film community, prompting an audience member to ask what reaction Thuesen was getting from them. "You are the first people in the world to see it," he replies, grinning. "In a couple of months, the complaints will drop on me in Denmark. I'm looking forward to that."

SUNDAY

10:50 a.m.

Where's Jodie Foster when you need her? At a press conference for The Brave One on Friday afternoon, the actress was thrilled to use her formidable French tongue. "I love it!" she bubbled, when questioned in the more elegant of Canada's two official languages. "It makes me feel like I have a purpose." Fast forward to Sunday morning, when bilingual director Alain Corneau is stumped by a French-speaking journalist who left him almost speechless - in any dialect. Stunningly, Corneau (here with his remake of French gangster film Le Deuxième Souffle) is asked why he was at the festival and why he brought did he bring his movie here. The shrugging veteran filmmaker, who had responded to previous questions in accented English, now can only respond in French, basically saying that he came to Toronto because he was invited. Moderator Henri Behar, who translates the exchange in English, is as boggled as Corneau. "It was a very strange question," Behar says afterward. "Why did you come to dinner? Because you asked me."

11:30 a.m.

Cate Blanchett and director Shekhar Kapur last brought Queen Elizabeth I to Toronto in the 1998 film, Elizabeth, which earned seven Oscar nominations. Now they've returned with the sequel, Elizabeth: The Golden Age. Comparing the famed queen to contemporary politicians, Blanchett notes that "she travelled even less than George Bush." In an odd way, says Blanchett, the Virgin Queen had some parallels to the late Princess Diana: "The accounts emphasize how she would walk among the people with very little guard and how they adored her," although "politically and psychologically" the two women were quite different.

The new movie also stars Clive Owen as Sir Walter Raleigh, the poet, explorer and courtier who caused Her Royal Knees to tremble. Says Kapur: "He was a man who lived his dreams but she was trapped within her power and couldn't live hers." Owen lives up to Raleigh's dashing reputation in his comments about Toronto in contrast to festivals such as Cannes, which are essentially for press and industry: "This is a festival where the people who live here are coming to see these movies. That's what a film festival should be."

Kapur notes that being of South Asian descent is no disadvantage in Toronto because he gets preferable treatment from South Asian taxi drivers and waiters in his hotel. "I get my breakfast served first."

1:30 p.m.

Richard Gere, a recipient of the charity OneXOne's 2007 Difference Awards, takes a shot at U.S. President George W. Bush at a press conference where the actor is honoured for his humanitarian efforts in Tibet and his work fighting HIV and AIDS.

Asked if he feels optimistic about the fight to eradicate world poverty and disease, he responds, "I feel incredibly optimistic, but I'm also crazy, so ... I see us all moving toward the light. And I've seen swings in my lifetime. Politically, absolutely. Spiritually, absolutely. We're coming out of a very dark time in America where we've had the wrong president. I think we're going to swing the other way now. We'll be much more involved with the world - not to dominate the world, but to learn from the world. And that's the beginning of real change. Just listening. Listening to the others."

1:45 p.m.

There's no doubting that Larry Charles (Borat, Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm) is one funny dude. And based on a 10-minute "sizzle reel" of Religulous, an irreverent documentary that hilariously looks at major global religions with known "apatheist" Bill Maher, the laughs will keep on coming. At a question-and-answer session that followed a sneak screening of clips from the uncompleted movie, an audience member suggested that Charles do away with "cheap-shot" mock captions. "Thanks for the advice," the director responds, not so sincerely. "You can do that when you make your own movie." Maher, seated next to the suddenly crusty Charles, smoothes things over, saying that the film was a work in progress.

2 p.m.

So what's really going on in Charlize Theron's head when, at a press conference for Sleepwalking, she riffs off a running joke about mishearing "Regina" (as in Regina, Sask., where some of the filming took place) as "vagina." Everyone laughs, and the room erupts with a battalion of camera shutters firing in her direction. She looks at the photographers tiredly. Apparently, Theron has won a reputation at this festival for being unco-operative for the cameras, particularly on the red carpet, by not striking enough poses for the paparazzi. Is she getting sick of the game? "I don't live my life focusing on the things that I hate," she says candidly and a little cryptically in a corner of a hotel lobby after the press conference. In fact, this festival is a huge triumph. She says that the premiere a day earlier the day before of her boyfriend Stuart Townsend's film Battle in Seattle (which she stars in) was one of her proudest moments. She had watched Townsend agonizing for years over the script and financing. The whole project nearly collapsed when the film, about anti-World Trade Organization demonstrations in Seattle, still didn't have a cast two weeks before filming was to start.

3:30 p.m.

Bad boys will be bad boys. When Sean Penn, director and writer of Into the Wild, is asked how long it took him to adapt a screenplay from Jon Krakauer's non-fiction book of the same name, he pauses and leans forward, causing the assembled photographers to step up their shutterbugging. "Keep taking pictures," Penn says, wearily sarcastic, "I'm giving you every expression in the world." To that, the shooters, no heeders of warnings, shoot away with even more velocity. "No, stop it!" Penn snaps. "It's the ugliest music in the world."

Explaining, that he can't think with all the noise, the camera-clicking stops and the question is repeated. "It was three weeks of pacing, smoking and dictation," Penn answers, explaining that he had been writing the film for 10 years "in his head." Think how much quicker it would have been if the paparazzi hadn't been distracting him all those years.

3:30 p.m.

"I don't mind being used for a cause." That's how Don Cheadle puts it during a polite lunch with the producers and director of the documentary Darfur Now. More than a film about the genocide in Sudan, Darfur Now advocates taking action and shows us how. Since starring in Hotel Rwanda, Cheadle has been active in the cause, co-founding the group Not On Our Watch. He's also a central character in the film. He said he recognizes full well how celebrities can fall flat on their faces if they seem to be more talk than action. Clooney is also a close supporter of the Darfur cause and the doc itself, but he was on a plane and couldn't make the Darfur panel discussion at the festival. But Cheadle is more than happy to comply. Besides, he joked, Brad couldn't make it.

Globe staff

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