Unlike the industry-oriented affairs at Cannes, Venice and Sundance, Toronto caters to the regular movie buff. For 10 days, locals and visitors alike take their holidays inside movie theaters, scooping up 250,000 tickets to what could be the next Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon or American Beauty.
This year's 326 films from 54 countries include 175 features making their world or North American premieres. No wonder--the fest has proved a reliable launching pad for Oscar-worthy films as diverse as The Usual Suspects, Like Water for Chocolate and L.A. Confidential, which premiered in Toronto before its release in Los Angeles.
Indeed, distributors and filmmakers from all over the world come to Toronto to, as festival communications director Nuria Bronfman puts it, "search out gems" like last year's audience favorite, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.
Also coming to town to do some gem-searching are dozens of Hollywood's most glittery celebs. It took festival director Piers Handling almost five minutes just to run down the notable RSVPs, among them: John Cusack, Christina Ricci, Ethan Hawke, Uma Thurmond, Steve Martin, Mick Jagger, Glenn Close, Portia de Rossi, Danny DeVito, Peter Fonda, Anthony Hopkins, Kevin Kline, Ben Kingsley, William Hurt, Mira Sorvino, Denzel Washington, Debra Winger, David Schwimmer, Salma Hayek, Benjamin Bratt and Kiefer Sutherland.
Where the stars go, the press follows, and Bronfman says more than 800 journalists from around the world will be descending on the city, giving filmmakers--from the major American studios to first-time directors--"a huge publicity opportunity."
With the film feeding frenzy about to begin, festival insiders have started the buzz going on which movies are mouth-watering and which are merely nourishing.
The Devil's Backbone--a Spanish entry about the ghosts stirring inside the rubble of a Spanish village at the end of that country's civil war Last Orders--a saga about friendship from Australian director Fred Schepisi, featuring a cast of British greats including Michael Caine, Bob Hoskins and David Hemmings. Le Souffle--the feature film debut for French director Damien Odoul follows the story of an alienated teenage boy stuck on the family farm The Safety of Objects--Glenn Close and Joshua Jackson star in this suburbia-skewering offering Training Day--Denzel Washington plays bad cop to Ethan Hawke's good cop in the police drama Hearts in Atlantis--Anthony Hopkins stars in the Stephen King adaptation about a man who can see the future Novocaine--for those who thought a dentist's life was dull, this comic thriller stars Steve Martin as a dentist falsely accused of murder; Helena Bonham Carter costars
Other notable entries include Sissy Spacek's latest movie, In The Bedroom; From Hell, a Jack the Ripper film starring Johnny Depp and Heather Graham; The Man from Elysian Fields, in which Mick Jagger runs a male escort service; Serendipity, a romantic comedy starring John Cusack and Kate Beckinsale; and The Triumph of Love, an updated take on the 18th century play starring Mira Sorvino as a cross-dressing princess.
For those still obsessed with World War II, there are the Czech Republic offering Dark Blue World, Germany's Taking Sides and the U.S.-U.K coproduction Enigma, all mining material from the conflict.
Thursday's opening film, per tradition a Canadian production, will be writer-director Bruce Sweeney's satire Last Wedding.
All told, the 26th Toronto Film Fest will screen more than 450 hours of film, ranging from a one-minute short to the nearly six-hour long La Commune--that's more than 18 solid days of 24-hour viewing, far more than can be seen in the festival's 10-day run.
But, as one fest publicist says, "We're sure you can do it."