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Festival News
Festival counsellor underemployed

By DIERDRE KELLY, The Globe and Mail
September 12, 2002

The mood was subdued at yesterday's Toronto International Film Festival in commemoration of the first anniversary of what is now known as 9/11.

No parties were scheduled, no stretch limousines were double-parked outside the Four Seasons Hotel, where the press office has been in full operation for a week. The hush that pervaded Yorkville yesterday morning was partly because the press office itself was closed for business until 11 a.m., to allow all the morning eulogies coinciding with the times the jet planes crashed into their U.S. targets to run their course.

The festival didn't want to upset anybody, after all. And to show how much they respected what some of their (largely American) guests might be feeling, organizers actually had on hand a counsellor for those who might want to share their pain -- and then some.

Brian Prittie of the Toronto-based Warren Shepell organization of professional hand-holders had been hired by the festival to offer counselling to groups in the morning and individuals throughout the afternoon. Mr. Prittie was on-call last year when the terrorist attacks first erupted and was back for a repeat performance. Except no groups showed up to grieve. People were too busy (a) watching the anniversary coverage on television screens that the festival had set up at hotel headquarters; (b) sleeping off the festivities of the night before in their hotel rooms (the party of the week was the In Style bash); (c) watching a movie like Jim Sheridan's In America, whose press screening was yesterday at 8:30 a.m., or (d) finding the counselling thing a little too precious to share with the collective.

In the afternoon, individuals did seek out Mr. Prittie to talk or whatever -- his counselling sessions are strictly confidential, so who can say exactly what took place behind closed doors? Perhaps there were heated discussions of the night's gala screening, the controversial 11/09/01, a collection of mini film responses to the Sept. 11 attacks by a variety of international filmmakers. Advance buzz (a Variety article a few weeks back) had crowned the film anti-American. But people who saw it for themselves at Tuesday's press and industry screening said the film was instead antiwar and mostly directed from a pacifist's point of view.

But there's no such thing as bad press, so yesterday afternoon's press conference at the Four Seasons was packed to the rafters with the curious and those wanting to give praise.

The timely scheduling of 11/09/01 meant that Sigourney Weaver's premiere screening of The Guys was pretty much overshadowed by all the hype.

Festivalites wanting to wallow even more in the anniversary anti-glow also took in Reno: Rebel Without a Pause, a film version of Karen Reno's stage play about the hit and collapse of the World Trade Center twin towers.

Gabrille Free, the festival's director of communications, said that while the atmosphere yesterday was "reflective," organizers also didn't want to shy away from sparking debate.

"What this festival does is try to create a forum for discussion and dialogue involving different viewpoints from around the world. That's not unique to us. That's what international film festivals do in general."


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