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Festival News
Lights, camera, caution at film fest

The Globe and Mail
September 5, 2002

On the surface, it seems to be business as usual as the Toronto International Film Festival unspools its 27th annual instalment today.

Hyped as the second-most-important film festival in the world, after the annual Cannes fête in May, the TIFF is showing 19 more movies than last year's 326. Demand for the 260,000 tickets has been strong and the lineups for them "an ordeal," in the words of one festival veteran.

Salma Hayek, Ralph Fiennes, Sophia Loren, Robert Duvall and a host of other actors have confirmed that they will be in town. Hotels in and around chi-chi Yorkville, the festival's hub, have been booked for months, with the Four Seasons and the Windsor Arms reporting full occupancy.

But it's a different festival from previous incarnations. Less bright-eyed, less inflated and a touch more cautious because, as Gabrielle Free, the festival's director of media and public relations, notes: "I think the world is more subdued than a year ago. At the same time, I don't think that feeling is specific to this event," she added. "People, in fact, seem to be looking forward to being here, to taking another crack at Toronto. There's been no lack of interest in the American or the international press, or the Canadian media for that matter. It's like, 'How soon can we get there?' "

Like the rest of the world, the TIFF is still processing what happened in Manhattan, Washington and Pennsylvania on the Tuesday morning of Sept. 11, 2001. When the twin towers of New York's World Trade Center came crashing down that day, the 26th TIFF, which was just starting the sixth day of its 10-day run, came crashing down with them. While films continued to be shown, the festive part of the festival -- the parties, the junkets, the restaurant celebrations, the press conferences, the receptions, the power breakfasts and lunches -- vanished.

The pall cast by Sept. 11 is perhaps more felt than seen in the programming of this year. Yes, festival director Piers Handling thinks, the fare is "more reflective over all" than what was offered in the past decade. But then, as Ms. Free said, programmers started to see that trend even before last year. Moreover, she added, "Many of the films we're doing this year were well into production before Sept. 11."

Still, the first anniversary is having its impact. For instance, on Sept. 11, which falls on Wednesday next week, the daily screenings will start at 11 a.m., rather than the usual 9 a.m. The two galas at Roy Thomson Hall that evening showcase Sept. 11-themed films: The Guys, Jim Simpson's adaptation of Anne Nelson's off-Broadway play about a New York fire captain (played by Anthony LaPaglia) who uses a writer-editor (played by Sigourney Weaver) to help him with the eulogies for his fallen comrades; and 11'09'01,11 films of 11 minutes, nine seconds each by 11 international directors.

The day before, a panel of directors from Italy, Norway, England and Denmark will speak for 90 minutes on "cinema in a time of unrest" while seeking to answer the question of whether filmmakers face new agendas and responsibilities after Sept. 11.

Historically, the TIFF always has been busiest and most intense in its first five days. But this year, according to a veteran publicist, it's "a little crazier than before" as studios, distributors, exhibitors and public-relations firms try to cram in as many events as they can before the Sept. 11 anniversary. Only two major media conferences are scheduled for Wednesday, instead of the usual four or five that would happen at the festival's mid-point.

Further, no festival-sponsored parties are scheduled for Sept. 11, although that does not mean there won't be any outside the festival's auspices. "And we wouldn't dissuade anyone from doing that, either," Ms. Free said.

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