Toronto the glam

There will be no shortage of star power at the Toronto Film Festival, writes Craig MacInnis.

Craig MacInnis
The Ottawa Citizen

Actor-Director Kenneth Branagh

Actor Robert De Niro and

Actor Alec Baldwin are scheduled to put in an appearance.

The Toronto International Film Festival will screen Duets, starring Gwyneth Paltrow and directed by her dad, Bruce. The film is part of the festival's 25th edition, which runs Sept. 7-16.

Actress Darryl Hannah

TORONTO - Piers Handling's annual roll call of incoming celebrities to the Toronto International Film Festival has reached epic -- some might say epidemic -- proportions.

At a news conference yesterday at the Windsor Arms Hotel in Toronto, Handling, the festival's soft-spoken director, put the finishing touches on preparations for the 25th annual spoolfest -- running Sept. 7-16 -- with his usual Reading of the Names. Handling called it his "favourite part of the festival," then quickly amended that to his "favourite part of the press conference," lest anyone think the sober-minded festival boss now favours starlets over serious cinema. (Anyone who knows Handling knows he would rather sit through a four-hour Swiss-Commanche co-production than mingle too long with the glamour set.)

For reasons of brevity, we have edited Handling's celebrity list, which threatened to stretch the morning news conference into the dinner hour with its run-on barrage of four-star talent. Here, then, an abbreviated peek at the beautiful people and world-class cineastes expected at next month's silver anniversary fete:

"Stephen Frears, David Mamet, Ang Lee, Denys Arcand, Daniel Auteuil, Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Gwyneth Paltrow, Sally Field, Minnie Driver, Daryl Hannah, Liv Ullmann, Nicolas Cage, Lynn Redgrave, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Gretchen Moll, Alec Baldwin....

"Sarah Jessica Parker, Willem Defoe, William H. Macy, Kevin Smith, Farrah Fawcett, Jessica Pare, Dan Aykroyd, Ellen Burstyn, Jeff Bridges, Joan Allen, Richard Gere, Kenneth Branagh, Ken Loach...."

It was here, roughly, that Handling's face began to turn blue and so, out of mercy (and a pending deadline), we shut off our tape recorder and tried to exit the jam-packed ballroom before total bedlam erupted. Earlier, Handling had announced yet another list, this one itemizing the Canadian directors contributing short films and/or workshops to Toronto's 25th festival, including David Cronenberg, Atom Egoyan, Don McKellar, Jeremy Podeswa, Jean-Pierre Lefebvre and Patricia Rozema.

Toronto's annual, late-August conference has always been an upbeat affair -- the last salvo of hype before the limousines arrive and the projectors whir. But yesterday's get-ready-get-set had a positively giddy ambience, included the cutting of a commemorative 25th anniversary cake.

"We've seen close to 2,000 films in 10 weeks," said Handling, referring to the number of submissions his staff of 12 programmers sorted through to arrive at the final list of 329 films.

"We're actually showing one less feature film than in 1999, so maybe someone can write that the festival is getting smaller," he joked.

It also was noted that the festival will draw some 600,000 visitors to Toronto and will contribute $30 million in direct economic impact.

More good news -- or bad, if you're still without tickets -- was delivered two days ago, when it was announced that all festival passes, coupon books and gala and daytime passes had sold clean out. Advance single tickets are available in person at the College Park box office -- 777 Bay St., Lower Level -- beginning Sept. 6. Visa cardholders can get a jump on orders for single tickets starting Saturday, again in person and only at the box office.

Remaining galas announced yesterday include How To Kill Your Neighbor's Dog, a comedy directed by Michael Kalesniko about an L.A.-based playwright (Kenneth Branagh), who falls upon hard times after a string of flops. Robin Wright-Penn co-stars as the playwright's wife.

Also confirmed: The world premiere of The Dish, starring Sam Neill and Patrick Warburton, set in the Australian outback during the 1969 Apollo XI mission to the moon; and Sexy Beast, a genre-bending gangster heist starring Ben Kingsley and Ray Winstone, directed by Jonathan Glazer. Other galas: Pandemonium, a Julien Temple film about the 19th century poets, William Wordsworth (John Hannah) and Samuel Taylor Coleridge (Linus Roache); and The House of Mirth, an adaptation of the Edith Wharton novel directed by Terence Davies and starring X-Files sleuth Gillian Anderson, Dan Aykroyd, Laura Linney, Elizabeth McGovern and Eric Stoltz.

The festival's lineup of Special Presentations includes: Joel Schumacher's Tigerland, about a 1971 Vietnam War boot camp in the swamps of Louisiana; Chinese Coffee, based on Ira Lewis's play and directed and starring Al Pacino; James Gray's The Yards, a thriller starring Mark Wahlberg, James Caan, Faye Dunaway, Ellen Burstyn and Charlize Theron; Il Postino director Michael Radford's Dancing at the Blue Iguana, starring Daryl Hannah, Jennifer Tilly and Canadian Sandra Oh as dancers at a down-at-the-heel dance club; and Francois Ozon's Sous Le Sable, about a woman (Charlotte Rampling) whose husband vanishes while she's napping on a beach. Titles previously announced for Special Presentations include: Sally Field's Beautiful; Julian Schnabel's Before Night Falls; Bruce Paltrow's Duets, starring daughter, Gwyneth, and Canada's Scott Speedman; David Mamet's State and Main; and Quebec director Robert Lepage's Possible Worlds.

The festival opens Sept. 7 with Denys Arcand's Stardom, the Canadian entry at last May's Cannes film festival.