- Associated Press - Thursday, September 9, 2010

TORONTO | The overseers of the glossy new home of the Toronto International Film Festival have two key aims: to infuse their building with the spirit of cinema’s future and the ghosts of its past.

The festival, which got under way Thursday for an 11-day run, opens the doors this weekend to the Bell Lightbox, a $181 million headquarters housing theaters, film lab facilities, art gallery space, restaurants and offices for its staff.

Located a few blocks from Roy Thomson Hall, a huge auditorium where the festival’s key premieres take place, Bell Lightbox is meant to provide a focal point for a cinema showcase whose events and screenings are spread throughout the city.

The festival began in the 1970s as a local celebration of Canadian film but has grown into a world-class spot for major Hollywood releases and premieres from around the world.

“When we were much smaller, everything used to take place within a few square blocks. It gave the festival kind of a communal feel,” said festival co-director Cameron Bailey. “We’re going back to that in a way this year.”

This year’s festival presents more than 300 feature-length and short films, including dramas starring Nicole Kidman, Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, Helen Mirren, Hilary Swank and Will Ferrell.

While the festival focuses on new films, the Bell Lightbox is stepping back to the past with an exhibit called “Essential Cinema,” featuring posters, images and props from 100 old and modern films that include “The Passion of Joan of Arc,” “The Wizard of Oz,” “Citizen Kane,” “The Godfather,” “Amelie,” “The Third Man,” “Raging Bull” and “Slumdog Millionaire.”

Among artifacts on display are the lens used to create the HAL 9000 computer’s perspective in “2001: A Space Odyssey,” the bulky camera that shot the Italian masterpiece “Bicycle Thieves” and an elaborate gown worn by Claudia Cardinale in “The Leopard.”

Even the site on which the facility is built has a cinema connection. The land was provided by the family of “Ghostbusters” filmmaker Ivan Reitman, whose father ran a carwash there.

Canadian filmmaker Guy Maddin whose films, including “The Saddest Music in the World,” have the look and feel of relics from cinema’s early years created two attractions for Bell Lightbox called “Hauntings.”

The first features 11 screens on which Mr. Maddin projects film segments he shot inspired by lost or uncompleted films by such directors as Fritz Lang and Josef von Sternberg, attempting to resurrect images from celluloid long since destroyed and forgotten. The second features images of people projected at night on the upper windows of the five-story building, ghostly sirens beckoning passers-by into the facility.

When he met with Bell Lightbox executives, “I told them, ‘Your building is so brand new and so beautiful, but it’s just not haunted by anything. It doesn’t have any spooks,’ ” Mr. Maddin said. “I offered in a reverse ghost-busting mode to haunt the place for them.”

Other works at Bell Lightbox include Canadian filmmaker Atom Egoyan’s homage to Federico Fellini’s “8 1/2,” which deconstructs the editing room scene near the film’s end and projects the various characters on different screens, and artist Douglas Gordon’s transformation of Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho,” with the horror classic running both forward and backward on side-by-side screens and slowed to a duration of 24 hours, the two versions meeting on a single image once a day.

“We hoped it would be the shower scene, but it’s actually not. Wouldn’t it be great if it were on Janet Leigh’s eyeball on both screens at the same time?” said Noah Cowan, artistic director of Bell Lightbox.

After Bell Lightbox opens Sunday, some of its theaters will be used for premieres and other screenings for the remaining week of the festival.

The theaters, ranging from 78 to 530 seats, will then be used for screenings of new and classic films and other year-round events.

Mr. Maddin said some high-minded building projects fail to live up to their utopian design, but the festival’s home does.

“I think this utopia has been very well thought out. There are theaters of every possible, different size. It’s like going into a boutique shoe store for big- and small-footed people,” Mr. Maddin said. “You know how every movie has exactly the right size audience? This venue will have exactly the right size theater for every movie coming in.”