Accent on English-lingo pix at Toronto Fest

The Toronto Intl. Film Festival will host a slew of North American premieres of high-profile English-lingo pics this year, including the first screenings on this continent of Woody Allen’s latest pic, “Mighty Aphrodite.”

Also featured will be Sean Penn’s “The Crossing Guard,” Kenneth Branagh’s “In the Bleak Midwinter” and “Cry, the Beloved Country,” based on the classic Alan Paton novel and starring James Earl Jones and Richard Harris.

Miramax’s “Four Rooms,” pulled from Venice because the film wasn’t ready, is slated to preem in Toronto- if the opening seven minutes of animation can be completed, said sources.

The complete lineup for the 20th Toronto fest (Sept. 7-16), was unveiled at a press conference in Toronto Aug. 22.

After months of speculation, fest director Piers Handling finally confirmed that “Le Confessionnal,” which made its bow at Cannes, will be the official opening-night film at this year’s edition of the Toronto festival. The feature-film debut from acclaimed Quebec theater writer director Robert Lepage, the French-Canadian pic is a stylish psychological thriller set in Quebec City. The complex drama was inspired by Alfred Hitchcock’s Quebec-lensed “I Confess.” Produced by Denise Robert, David Puttnam and Philippe Carcassonne, “Le Confessionnal” is a Canada/U.K./France co-production and is repped internationally by Polygram Film Intl.

Allen’s “Mighty Aphrodite” will have a gala screening at Toronto. “The Crossing Guard,” which toplines Jack Nicholson and Anjelica Huston, and “Cry, the Beloved Country,” a South African drama directed by Darrell James Roodt, also will receive gala treatment. Other gala screenings announced are “Guantanamera,” the latest offering from Cuban helmers Tomas Gutierrez Alea and Juan Carlos Tabio (“Strawberry & Chocolate”), and the world preem of “Nelly et Monsieur Arnaud,” a May-December romance from veteran Gallic helmer Claude Sautet starring Emmanuelle Beart and Jean-Hugues Anglade.

This year’s Special Presentations program showcases 19 features, notably Branagh’s “In the Bleak Midwinter,” a comedy about a down-on-their-luck Shakespearean troupe; and “Four Rooms,” the quartet of stories from directors Quentin Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez, Allison Anders and Alexander Rockwell. The “Four Rooms” cast includes Tim Roth, Madonna, Bruce Willis and Antonio Banderas.

The Special Presentations series features the North American preem of “Carrington,” writer Christopher Hampton’s Cannes prize-winning directorial debut, which stars Emma Thompson and Jonathan Pryce; “Angels and Insects,” based on an A.S. Byatt novella; Liv Ullmann’s medieval epic “Kristin Lavransdatter”; and Theo Angelopoulos’ “Ulysses’ Gaze,” the Harvey Keitel starrer that garnered the Special Jury Prize in Cannes this year.

Other Special Presentation offerings include Wayne Wang and Paul Auster’s “Blue in the Face,” based around characters and situations from the film “Smoke” and starring many of the same actors; and “Par-Dela les Nuages,” a film from Italian director Michelangelo Antonioni and based on four of his short stories.

The Special Presentations section is rounded out by screenings of “Georgia,” starring Jennifer Jason Leigh as a high-strung singer; Gary Fleder’s crime tale “Things to Do in Denver When You’re Dead”; and “The Freethinker,” an examination of playwright August Strindberg from helmer Peter Watkins (“Edvard Munch”).

The fest will mark 100th anniversary of the invention of cinema with a new series, “Dialogues: Talking with Pictures,” with nine directors picking and introducing a film that has had a major effect on their lives. Canadian director David Cronenberg will discuss Tod Browning’s cult classic “Freaks,” Jonathan Demme will introduce ’60s Brazilian pic “Antonio Das Mortes” and Hal Hartley will explain the importance of the vintage Beatles pic “A Hard Day’s Night.”

The fest’s First Cinema sidebar, dedicated to up-and-coming talent, will showcase 30 international films, including indie director Hal Salwen’s hip, phone obsessed comedy “Denise Calls Up,” and “The White Balloon,” another Cannes prize-winner, from Iranian director Jafar Panhi. Sixty-five films will screen as part of the Contemporary World Cinema Program, notably British director Ken Loach’s Spanish Civil War drama “Land and Freedom” and Spanish helmer Carlos Saura’s musical “Flamenco.”

In total, 298 pics from 50 countries will unspool.

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