Toronto International Film Festival seems to draw little interest

Saturday, September 8, 2007
It takes more than Jodie Foster working the red carpet to get Toronto to perk up. The 2007 Toronto International Film Festival began Thursday and will run through Sept. 15. (Carolyn Kaster ~ Associated Press)

TORONTO -- Toronto's turn playing host to movie stars and fresh-faced directors includes little of the giddy excitement so rampant earlier in the year during Utah's Sundance Film Festival. It doesn't have the glitz of Cannes, nor the scenery of Telluride. There are no welcome banners lining the clean city streets.

During the course of a customs and immigration interview at the city's international airport, a reporter happily exclaimed he was visiting for the festival. A black-vested government agent didn't register even the slightest hint of interest.

"What's your date of departure?" he responded.

Ah, that good Canadian cheer.

Local newspapers devoted some space to Thursday's opening night screening of "The Brave One," where Jodie Foster and Terrence Howard walked the red carpet. But the dominant image on front pages was from Australia.

That's where pranksters -- including a man dressed as Osama bin Laden -- drove a motorcade past two security checkpoints at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Sydney, waving Canadian flags from their limos and motorcycles.

In Toronto, the mass influx of stretch limos carrying Hollywood stars wasn't really beginning until Friday night, when George Clooney, Tilda Swinton, Reese Witherspoon and Jake Gyllenhaal posed for pictures at the gala screenings of their movies -- "Michael Clayton" for the first two actors, "Rendition" for the latter pair.

Press photographers were advised of their arrivals with an e-mail blast titled "Camera call" -- sort of like a cattle call but involving cinema.

Toronto's fest is known as a well-oiled machine. And in terms of getting people in and out of a remarkable number of high-quality, Oscar-worthy movies at a rapid clip, it is indeed.

Unlike at smaller festivals, most of the theaters used for screenings here are actual theaters, so there's none of the glitches that go along with converting rec halls or libraries into movie palaces.

Attendees at the screening of "No Country For Old Men" were rewarded with one of the Coen brothers' best movies. Expectations of a fine crime thriller are rewarded, then subverted with sudden shifts in perspective and unclosed loops.

Clooney's "Michael Clayton" and Emile Hirsch's "Into the Wild" likewise have greed as their targets. The latter film celebrates the good-hearted rejection of all things material by Christopher McCandless. In Sean Penn's telling of a true story, he gives $25,000 to charity, and burns the remainder of his cash savings at the beginning of his journey into the Alaskan wilderness.

In "Michael Clayton," Clooney's titular character is a fixer for a high-powered law firm. He's got a lawyer friend, played by Tom Wilkinson, who's even more "touched" than McCandless. Through the course of the movie, Clayton steadily breaks away from the corporate ambition that got him a luxury car, a stake in a restaurant -- and a divorce.

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