By William Wolf


So many celebrities turned up at the 2005 edition of the Toronto International Film Festival, its 30th, that the 10-day period provided a field day for observing them on the red carpet as they entered the galas and at the myriad parties held around the cities to promote the various films. In the first years of the festival, veterans remembered, it was a struggle to get stars and directors to attend and to get Hollywood’s cooperation. Everything has turned around. Now the Festival is inundated. It couldn’t happen to a nicer city. Torontonians are wild about cinema and the welcome mat is heartily extended.

The roster of notables included, for example, Kirsten Dunst, Orlando Bloom, Cameron Crowe, Keira Knightley, Robert Downey, Jr., Val Kilmer, Ed Harris, Cameron Diaz, Toni Collette, Vigo Mortensen, Maria Bello, Anthony Hopkins, Liza Minnelli, Philip Seymour Hoffman and oh so many, many more.

For critics and journalists attending, the various press conferences provided the occasions to zero in on the filmmakers and the stars and gain insights to the making of the movies themselves. This year the conferences were held at the Sutton Place Hotel, the lobby of which swarmed with press and industry representatives.

Much interest was stirred by the film “Brokeback Mountain.” There was extra excitement at its press conference. Director Ang Lee couldn’t be there because he had to fly to Venice, where, by telephone, he could be heard telling co-producer James Schamus of the film just winning the top award at the Venice Film Festival. In addition to Schamus, those on hand included stars Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger.

All were trying hard to establish that “Brokeback Mountain” should not be talked about as “a gay cowboy movie.” The plot does involve two cowboys falling in love with each other. But “love” is the key word. As Ledger put it when asked why he agreed to do the film: “First and foremost it was one of the best screenplays I’ve seen--a story of love. This felt like something very new, something that hadn’t been done.”

Gyllenhaal made the point: “You can’t call this a western. It is a love story that takes place in the west.” Schamus, who has worked with Lee before, stressed about the film being released by Focus Features, “I can speak for Lee on this—this was the most fun we ever had in making films.”

Another work that commanded special attention was “Walk the Line,” the story of singers Johnny Cash and June Carter. Joaquin Phoenix, who plays Cash, and Reese Witherspoon, who portrays Carter, impressed critics by doing their own singing. Said Phoenix: “If people want to hear Johnny Cash, they can get his records—he’s made a few.” Director James Mangold stressed that it was important for the stars to sing themselves in order to get the right feeling in the film, as opposed to what it might have sounded like if their speaking voices had been so different than their singing voices.

But that took a lot of preparation. “We had six months of rehearsals,” Witherspoon said. “Every day we went about our voice lessons. I also took guitar lessons. We rehearsed five hours a day.” The result has a very authentic ring.

Witherspoon also said that she grew up in Nashville, Tennessee, and always wanted to be a singer, and she knew all about Cash and Carter as performers. “But there wasn’t a lot of research material with which you could learn about them before they were famous.”

Director Stephen Frears and actor Bob Hoskins carried the ball for the charming “Mrs. Henderson Presents,” a tale about a rich widow who buys the Windmill Theatre in London and initiates women striking still, nude poses on stage, and also about the relationship with her manager. Dame Judi Dench plays Mrs. Henderson, and Hoskins is manager Vivian van Damm.

Hoskins recalled: “The Windmill offered women in tableaux as a kind of family entertainment. My parents took me when I was five.” He cited the recreation of the whole theater situation. “It was like being in a real theater company.”

Frears said there was no attempt on his part to make a movie musical. But he said, “It isn’t a musical, except that it is a musical.”

Hoskins told how he worked to convince Judi Dench to take the part of Mrs. Henderson. Referring to two amusing scenes, he reported, “I said, ‘Judi, you get to dress up as a Chinese lady and play a bear.’ That did it.”

The French had a particularly strong presence with 25 French features and 16 French co-productions. Unifrance USA and The French Film office celebrated with their annual press luncheon at the Italian restaurant Prego, attended by stars and directors of some of the films.

For example, I was able to talk with two stars of “Heading South (Ver le Sud),” Charlotte Rampling and American actress Karen Young. (The film was directed by Laurent Cantet.) Rampling and Young play two women who go to a resort in Haiti where they can have sex with young Haitian men. Rampling said what interested her was the story because it concerned women of a certain age. Such parts are hard to find.

Asked why she wanted to play her role, Young said with a smile, “The size of the part.” But it was also the meaning of the role that attracted her. “She [Brenda] finds herself in love but can’t accept that she’s entitled.” Rampling speaks French fluently, but Young needed help. “Laurent instructed me to enable me to speak better French than I do…But most of it was in English.”

The party scene in Toronto kept going full blast. The opening night bash at Exhibition Place, attended by several thousand, had an Asian food motif. The most generous of parties for specific films that I attended was the one for the independent film, “Brooklyn Lobster.” The buffet, in addition to having plenty of raw oysters and clams, was stacked with individual lobsters for guests to feast on. At another promotional party, given by the Sarasota Film Festival, waiters were moving about with their trays loaded with lamb chops.

And so it went for the duration.


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