Toronto Film Festival

Toronto Film Festival

By Paul Fischer in Los Angeles

Outside of Cannes, the Toronto International Film Festival has emerged as one of the most prestigious - and the busiest - film festival in the world. While last year, the Festival became a muted affair following September 11; this year's 26th event is going all out to put 11/9 behind it.

While part of Toronto falls on the anniversary of that tragic day, appropriately, it will mark the event partly by a delayed start that day, and partly through the world premiere of "The Guys" - a film adaptation of the acclaimed play, and starring Australia's father-to-be Anthony LaPaglia. LaPaglia, currently shooting a new TV series, stars in this heart wrenching story of a fire captain who lost eight men in the collapse of the World Trade Centre alongside Sigourney Weaver, who plays the editor that helps him prepare the eulogies he must deliver. The pair also appeared in the stage version, and the film was directed by Weaver's husband. LaPaglia is expected to attend the Festival, despite a heavy work schedule.

While September 11 may be a sombre day, the rest of Toronto is filled with diverse and eclectic fare. Australians are playing their part as directors and actors prepare to congregate in this Canadian city, in the hope that their films will be eagerly embraced by international audiences and buyers alike. Prolific director Phillip Noyce will be screening not one, but two films at Toronto. The director hadn't made an Australian film since "Dead Calm" when he decided to shoot both "Rabbit Proof Fence" and "The Quiet American" back-to-back. The former already opened in Australia to strong reviews, and will be released in the US by Miramax in November, receiving its North American premiere in Toronto.

"The Quiet American", based on Graham Greene's searing novel, is also being released in the US by Miramax and Toronto will serve as the film's initial launching pad. The second film adaptation of Greene's classic novel, the movie takes place in Saigon, 1952, a beautiful, exotic, and mysterious city caught in the grips of the Vietnamese war of liberation from the French colonial powers. New arrival Alden Pyle (Brendan Fraser), an idealistic American aid worker, befriends London Times correspondent Thomas Fowler (Michael Caine). When Fowler introduces Pyle to his beautiful young Vietnamese mistress Phuong (Hai Yen), the three become swept up in a tempestuous love triangle that leads to a series of startling revelations and finally - murder. The film's anti-Americanism may not go down too well, but advance word on the film remains positive.

Director Bill Bennett has had an up-and-down career. Renowned for his early successes with "Backlash" and "Kiss or Kill", Bennett's career took a nosedive with his much maligned "Two If By Sea". He has returned home with "The Nugget", a comedy about a group of three road workers who stumble upon the world's biggest nugget, and become instant millionaires - or so they think. Featuring a strong ensemble cast headed by star-on-the-rise Eric Bana, along with Steven Curry, Belinda Emmett, Vince Colosimo and Max Cullen, the film will receive its world premiere at Toronto in the Contemporary World Cinema section. It is expected that both Bennett and the future Incredible Hulk himself, Eric Bana, will be present at the Festival.

Also at Toronto, the critically acclaimed "Dirty Deeds" will have its North American premiere. The 1960s-set crime drama was already a big critical hit in Australia and expectations are high that the film will have sales at Toronto. Director Caesar and star Bryan Brown are expected to attend.

Also screening at Toronto will be Rachel Perkins' luminous "One Night the Moon", which already screened at Sundance, but sales were few and far between. Hopefully that situation will change as a result of Toronto.

Australian directors coming in with international efforts include Bruce Beresford; whose film "Evelyn" will receive its world premiere at Toronto. The movie, which was shot on location in Dublin, is based on the true story of Desmond Doyle, played by superstar Pierce Brosnan, who fought the Irish government and the Catholic Church to overturn an outdated custody law and recover his four children after his wife ran off and he lost his job. A film close to Brosnan's heart, the actor also produced the film, which opens in the US in just a few weeks following his latest Bond saga. Brosnan and co-star Julianna Margulies are expected to attend, along with Beresford.

Making her international directing debut is Samantha Lang, whose latest film "L'Idole", an Australian-French co-production in French, will be unspooled as a North American premiere. The film is quite a departure from the young woman who gave us "The Well" and "The Monkey's Mask". In "L'Idole", the lives of the residents of a French apartment block are disrupted by the arrival of a young Australian woman (Leelee Sobieski), a struggling theatre actress. Her neighbour is an elderly Chinese man respected by the other residents, who is considering moving into a retirement community. The two are drawn together through their loneliness and a touching grandfather-granddaughter sort of relationship develops between them. Early buzz on the film is strong, and received glowing reviews following its world premiere at the recent Locarno Film Festival in Switzerland.

Australian actors who have international films in Toronto include Geoffrey Rush ["Frida"], David Wenham [the British film "Pure"], and Miranda Otto ["Julie Walking Home", the new film by acclaimed director Agnieszka Holland].

This 26th Toronto Film Festival is shaping up to be one of the biggest and most star-studded in years. Apart from the Australian contingent, stars from Susan Sarandon and Dustin Hoffman to Michelle Pfeiffer, Antonio Banderas and Catherine Deneuve, are all expected to attend. From September 5-15, Toronto will never be the same again.

- Paul Fischer


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