- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 3, 2003

TORONTO

The Toronto International Film Festival kicks off today, reeling out 336 films from 55 countries with a bevy of Hollywood and world stars to usher them in.

The 28th annual festival — considered among the world’s most important as it is a gateway into North American distribution — could not come at a better time for Canada’s largest, but recently beleaguered, city.

From the documentary “Game Over: Kasparov and the Machine,” about the famous chess player, to the closing gala Australian fantasy flick “Danny Deckchair,” about a man who flies with helium balloons attached to his deck chair, the festival has cinephiles lining up for blocks to enter theaters or try to spot celebrities.

The festival, which generated $67 million ($48 million U.S.) for the local economy last year, will open with Canadian filmmaker Denys Arcand’s Cannes award-winning film “The Barbarian Invasions.”

The Ontario government, hoping to give the 10-day festival a boost after the city’s severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) crisis hurt tourism, contributed $400,000 ($287,000 U.S.) to attract more people to the festival.

Festival director Piers Handling said stars are coming out in force this year as in previous years, and he would “roll with the punches” after the city’s difficulties with SARS and the August blackout.

This year, Meg Ryan, Denzel Washington, Omar Sharif, Isabella Rossellini, Nicole Kidman, Anthony Hopkins, Francis Ford Coppola, Val Kilmer, Benicio Del Toro and Cate Blanchett are expected to strut their stuff at the festival.

Meanwhile, more than 300 buyers and sellers will park their frames in uncomfortable cinema seats to check out the latest offerings, hoping to find a gem in the rough, as when “American Beauty” emerged here in 1999.

The festival comprises 15 sections, including the red-carpet gala screenings, the established filmmakers’ Masters series, Discovery for first- or second-time directors, Real to Reel for documentaries and the Visions program for films that challenge notions of filmmaking.

Unlike other international, cash-prized festivals, the Toronto festival awards only a People’s Choice Award to selections.

This year among the 64 world premieres are 27 European productions or co-productions compared to just 17 such U.S. premieres.

There are slightly more than 85 U.S.-produced films in total, but they tend to make the biggest splashes here because of North American market buyers’ attendance and the closeness to the Academy Awards, which this year have been moved up to late February.

Among the flicks getting some pre-festival buzz is the world premiere of “Shattered Glass,” about the meteoric rise and much-publicized fall of journalist Stephen Glass.

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