How to Kill Your Neighbor's Dog chosen as Toronto film festival closing gala
This is a scene from How to Kill Your Neighbor's Dog, director Michael Kalesniko's first-time effort. (CP/ho)

TORONTO (CP) - They agree the title is unusual.

But organizers have chosen the world premiere of How to Kill Your Neighbor's Dog, director Michael Kalesniko's first-time effort, as the closing night gala for the 25th Toronto International Film Festival. It's a tradition of the festival, which runs from Sept. 7-16 this year, to close on an upbeat note and the domestic comedy is said to fill the bill.

Starring Kenneth Branagh, Robin Wright-Penn and Lynn Redgrave, it's the story of a frustrated L.A.-based playwright whose wife wants to have a baby, while both of them are foiled by a neighbour's noisy dog.

"It's a very gentle comedy with wonderful repartee between Branagh and Wright-Penn," says festival director Piers Handling. "It's just the perfect end to a festival."

Things will also begin on a light-hearted note. It was announced earlier that the opening gala will be Quebec director Denys Arcand's Stardom. It's a satire of the international fashion industry but won only lukewarm reviews at Cannes earlier this year. Of the staggering 1,832 films submitted this year, programmers chose 329 from 56 countries, including a record 178 world or North American premieres.

Handling also announced the usual bevy of stars and celebrity filmmakers would be in attendance including Al Pacino, Robert Duvall, Robert De Niro, Atom Egoyan, David Cronenberg, David Mamet, Robert Altman, Elizabeth Hurley, Gwyneth Paltrow, Minnie Driver, Daryl Hannah, Cuba Gooding, Jr., Matthew Broderick, Alec Baldwin, Sarah Jessica Parker, Nicolas Cage, Willem Dafoe, William H. Macy, Farrah Fawcett, Dan Aykroyd, Laura Dern, Ellen Burstyn, Jeff Bridges, Richard Gere, Kenneth Branagh, Ben Kingsley, Helen Mirren, Ed Harris and many others.

Other late additions to the lineup announced at Tuesday's warm-up news conference include:

-Rob Sitch's The Dish with Sam Neill, about the effect the 1969 Apollo XI moon flight had on a small Australian outback town.

-Sexy Beast, Jonathan Glazer's feature film debut, a British comedy about an ex-gangster lured back into the underworld. Stars Ben Kingsley.

-Pandaemonium, a world premiere from Julien Temple, which deals with the relationship between 19th century English poets William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

-The House of Mirth, the North American premiere of Terence Davies' adaptation of the Edith Wharton novel, a look at the savagery behind the witty facade of New York Society. It stars Gillian Anderson and Dan Aykroyd.

There are also some innovations this year to help celebrate the festival's silver anniversary.

One of them is the Preludes program, in which 10 Canadian directors were commissioned to create 10 short films that will be screened prior to festival galas.

"About a year ago I had this idea to leave some kind of legacy behind," says Handling. "And asked them to use their festival experiences as a kind of stimulation, and to just make little short films."

As a result, Cronenberg, Egoyan and others shot the preludes this spring and summer to offer their personal impressions. Egoyan, for example, chose to focus on the phenomenon of the movie lineup.

Handling says many of the shorts were shot in a day or two, some even in a single take.

The growing trend towards digital cinema will also be reflected. Six features and nine shorts will be projected via digital video with three screening locales outfitted with special high-definition technology.

"As filmmakers like Mike Figgis, Wim Wenders and others move in this direction, it is important that the festival keep up technologically," says Handling, who adds that no one seems to have noticed that several films were digitally projected last year.

One new digital feature will be IVANSXTC (Ivan's Ecstasy) by Bernard Rose.

And still another anniversary-related event is the Sept. 2 publication by Random House of Brave Films, Wild Nights, by film critic Brian D. Johnson, a chronological history of the festival replete with no-holds-barred descriptions of its rather decadent heyday in the early 1980s.

"It's very anecdotal, it's very gossipy," says Handling. "But I think he's done a really good job of capturing the flavour of the festival, how it's changed over the years and how important it's become."


Some of the promising films slated for this year's Toronto film festival:

Stardom: Denys Arcand's satire of the fashion industry got a lukewarm reception at Cannes but is the opening night gala.

How to Kill the Neighbor's Dog: Described as a sophisticated and touching comedy, the world premiere will be the closing night gala.

Maelstrom: Denis Villeneuve's Quebec fish story has been selected to open the Perspective Canada program.

Pandaemonium: A passionate story of poetry, love and betrayal starring John Hannah, Linus Roache and Samantha Morton. A world premiere gala.

The House of Mirth: Written and directed by Terence Davies, the North American premiere stars Gillian Anderson, Dan Aykroyd, Anthony Lapaglia, Elizabeth McGovern and Eric Stoltz.

State and Main: David Mamet's latest about a film crew invading a small New England town stars Alec Baldwin and Sarah Jessica Parker.

Dr. T and the Women: Richard Gere stars as a naughty gynecologist in Robert Altman's latest ensemble piece.

Men of Honor: Formerly titled Marine Diver, the story of the U.S. Navy's first African-American master diver stars Robert De Niro and Cuba Gooding, Jr.

Billy Elliot: Julie Walters stars in what some U.S. critics predict will be the breakout little film of the year. An English coal miner's son begins to take ballet lessons, much to his dad's chagrin.

Pollock: Ed Harris's directorial debut in which he stars as American abstract expressionist painter Jackson Pollock.

Beautiful: Sally Fields goes behind the camera to helm her comic take on the American obsession with glamour. Stars Minnie Driver and Kathleen Turner.

The Weight of Water: Kathryn Bigelow's gala presentation stars Sean Penn, Elizabeth Hurley and Canada's Sarah Polley. A photojournalist sails to a New Hampshire island to research a 19th century crime.

In the Mood For Love: Wong Kar-wai's story of two families in 1960s Hong Kong stars Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung.

A Shot at Glory: Michael Corrente directs Robert Duvall and Michael Keaton in the story of a Scottish football manager and his misfit Highland team.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Ang Lee's return to Asian cinema blew them away at Cannes. Chow Yun Fat and Michelle Yeoh in a story of a 19th century warrior blends traditional martial arts action with Matrix-style action choreography.

Duets: A road-trip comedy about karaoke competitors starring Gwyneth Paltrow, Huey Lewis, Andre Braugher and Torontonian Scott Speedman.

Shadow of the Vampire: What if Max Schreck (Willem Dafoe) was a real vampire while filming W.W. Murnau's silent classic Nosferatu, the 1920s German version of Dracula?

Tigerland: An unusually low-budget film from Joel Schumacher about young men in boot-camp training for Vietnam.

The Canadian Press, 2000