By William Wolf


When I think back to the first Toronto Film Festival—yes I’ve attended all but one—I recall some of the nasty, unsupportive newspaper comments ridiculing the Festival planners if a star whose appearance was promised didn’t show for one reason or another. They were I-told-you-so reactions in the light of the skepticism with which the event, then called The Festival of Festivals, was greeted. Indeed, stars were hard to enlist at the beginning.

Look at then now. The enormous success over the years has made Toronto during Festival time a favorite visiting place for stars galore, as well as directors, producers, writers and others prominently connected with the film industry. Other celebrities also like to show up to get in on the action. It has been like that for years now, and the 2008 Fest was no different.

Toronto film fans are not so blasé that they don’t enjoy ogling the stars. Some of those who turned up included Anne Hathaway, Michael Fox, Tim Robbins, Mark Ruffalo. Julienne Moore, Queen Latifah, Rachel Weisz, Liv Tyler, Robert De Niro, Benicio Del Toro, Mickey Rourke and Evan Rachel Wood.

You want more?

Keira Knightley, Jennifer Aniston, Norman Jewison, Antionio Banderas, Danny Glover, Ralph Fiennes, Mickey Rourke, Ellen Burstyn, Martin Landau, Renée Zellweger, Deepa Mehta, Greg Kinnear, Dakota Fanning, Bill Maher, Ed Harris, Viggo Mortensen, Jeremy Irons, Jennifer Hudson, Derek Luke, Alan Alda, Danny Boyle, Edward Norton, Colin Farrell, Adrien Brody, Ethan Hawke, Ben Kingsley and Steven Soderburgh. The list goes on.

Press members were able to talk with many of those attending either at press conferences, in one on one interviews or at some of the numerous receptions. For example, I was delighted to get a chance to chat with Ellen Burstyn, who attended the Festival in connection with her film, “Lovely, Still,” in which she stars opposite Martin Landau, he as an elderly bachelor, she as a woman who has moved in across the street and turns up in his house, with a relationship developing from there. The film was written and directed by Nik Fackler.

A perennial question is why a star will take a certain part. “The script and the director,” replied Burstyn. It is so hard to find a good script. Sometimes I could get to play opposite an actor I admire, but [she makes a face] if the script isn’t right, I won’t do it.”

At a luncheon given by Unifrance, I was able to chat with the Dardenne Brothers, Jean-Pierre and Luc, who made the compelling “Le Silence de Lorna.” and have directed such other impressive works as “Rosetta” and “L’Enfant.”

How do they work together? “We both write,” said Luc. “I phone Jean-Pierre when I write—we work closely together.” He said that there is no division of labor. “We work as one.”

French director Claire Denis, whose “35 Shots of Rum” was also screened at the Festival, had a cryptic reply when complimented on the way she was able to say so much about her characters visually in telling the story of a relationship between a father and daughter. “They did that in silent movies,” she said. She also said that casting the film was not a problem for her. “I have worked many times with the leads actors.”

In addition to being in Toronto to promote his own film, “Miracle at St. Anna,” Spike Lee held a special press conference to promote a project with which he is associated, the Babelgum Online Film Festival. The aim is to enable independent filmmakers to put their work on the internet free of charge. Lee is returning as chairman of the jury.

“To me this is about nurturing young talent,” Lee said. “This is my 11th year of being a professor at New York University. I enjoy teaching and many of my students come from all over.” He said they would like their films to be seen the world over. “There is a lot of talent out there. “This is an arrangement to give young filmmakers a platform and let them show what they have to offer.”

The major problem, as always, is so much of interest is going on at the same time at the Festival, and it is a constant matter of making choices, But who can complain about an excess of opportunity?


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