Eclectic mix on Toronto fest sked

'Red Violin' to set tone for confab

TORONTO — More than 300 features, including a staggering 144 world premieres, will unspool at the 23rd edition of the Toronto International Film Festival. The program has also slotted 83 films by first-time filmmakers.

Fest director Piers Handling unveiled the complete program at a press conference Tuesday. The 10-day event bows Sept. 10 with local production “The Red Violin” by Francois Girard, and winds with the world premiere of DreamWorks’ animated “Antz.”

“It’s a very eclectic body of film,” Handling said. He noted that this year’s list includes an unusually large number of first-time films — 83 of them. Last year there were only 47. “Obviously there’s a lot of energy out there and film still waves its magic wand,” Handling said.

Hollywood delegation

Traditionally strong on star power, Toronto is expecting a heavy contingent of Hollywood thesps to put in an appearance, including Tom Cruise, Meryl Streep, Holly Hunter, Sylvester Stallone, Billy Bob Thornton and Bridget Fonda.

The centerpiece Gala section has largely been revealed in earlier announcements, so the only additions to the section are “Hilary and Jackie” from the U.K. starring Emily Watson; Kiefer Sutherland headlining a tale of Vietnam field medics in “A Soldier’s Sweetheart”; and the English fantasy-drama “Little Voice” with Michael Caine, Brenda Blethyn, Ewan MacGregor and Jane Horrocks.

Other Galas include “Dancing at Lughnasa” starring Streep, Sam Raimi’s “A Simple Plan” with Thornton and Bill Paxton, the Cannes preemed “School of Flesh” from France and Brazil’s “Central Station.”

The event’s largest section, Contemporary World Cinema, includes world bows of “Beauty” from Hong Kong, Rose Troche’s British “Bedrooms & Hallways,” “Last Contract” from Sweden and “End of August, Beginning of September” from France’s Olivier Assayas.

American productions receiving global premieres include Peter Berg’s “Very Bad Things,” “Home Fries” starring Drew Barrymore, Bette Gordon’s “Luminous Motion” with Deborah Unger, Bruce Wagner’s “I’m Losing You” and “Trance” by Michael Almereyda.

Cannes winner

The section also features Cannes-prized “The Celebration” by Denmark’s Thomas Vintenberg and “Dream Life of Angels” from France’s Erick Zonca, Francis Veber’s French B.O. sensation “The Dinner Party,” the controversial “Happiness” by Todd Solondz, “The Hole” from Taiwan, Saul Rubinek’s “Jerry and Tom” from Sundance and John Maybury’s Frances Bacon bio “Love Is the Devil.”

In addition, there are “Lovers of the Arctic Circle” by Spain’s Julio Medem, the Colombian “The Rose Seller,” Raul Ruiz’s “Shattered Image,” the British comedy “Waking Ned Devine,” Julian Temple’s “Vigo” and the Canadian-Irish “This is My Father” made by Quinn brothers Paul, Aidan and Declan.

Special Presentations include a restoration of Don Shebib’s seminal 1970 Canadian feature “Goin’ Down the Road” and Orson Welles’ 1958 film noir “Touch of Evil.”

Making their world debuts in the Specials section are Dani Levi’s German-Swiss “The Giraffe,” iconoclast John Waters’ “Pecker,” the U.S. thriller “Permanent Midnight” starring Ben Stiller, Britain’s “The Theory of Flight” by Paul Greengrass with Kenneth Branagh and Helena Bonham Carter, Deepa Mehta’s “Earth” from India, Bryan Singer’s “Apt Pupil” starring Ian McKellan, Sturla Gunnarsson’s Canada-U.K. “Such a Long Journey,” and American indies “At Sachem Farm” and “Finding Graceland.”

Also of note in Specials are James Ivory’s “A Soldier’s Daughter Never Cries,” Roberto Benigni’s “Life Is Beautiful,” James Woods and Melanie Griffith in the Larry Clark-directed “Another Day in Paradise,” Dorris Dorrie’s German comedy “Am I Beautiful?” and “The Mighty,” based on the kid lit classic and directed by Peter Chelsom, featuring Sharon Stone and Gena Rowlands.

Masters choice

The Masters selections include Cannes Palme d’Or winner “Eternity and a Day” by Theo Angelopoulos, as well as recent films by John Boorman (“The General”), Carlos Saura (“Tango”), Eric Rohmer (“Tale of Autumn”), Shohei Imamura (“Dr. Akagi”) and Mexico’s Arturo Ripstein (“Divine”). Others in the series are Italian Nanni Moretti’s “April,” Ken Loach’s “My Name Is Joe” and “Tu Ridi” by Paolo and Vittorio Taviani.

The popular Midnight Madness fare ranges from American indie “Six-String Samurai” to Hong Kong’s “Mighty Peking Man.” Other cult delights include Alex de la Iglesia’s “Perdita Durango,” “The Acid House” from the U.K. and Matthew Harrison’s “The Bystander From Hell.”

The cutting edge Discovery program features such previously trumpeted fare as L.A. Indie prize-winner “Broken Vessels,” the French-Lebanese “West Beirut” from Cannes and the Estonian “Georgica.” Other touted fare includes India’s “The Terrorist,” “Radiance” from Australia, France’s “A Minute of Silence” and American indie “Hell’s Kitchen.”

The keynote speaker at Symposium ’98: Reality Bites Back/Indie Rules (Sept. 14-15) will be Alliance Communications founder Robert Lantos. (Producer Saul Zaentz, who had previously been announced, will not be attending.) The fest will once again feature the Meetings program, which provides a chance to meet some of the industry’s leading players face to face. Vancouver writer Ken Hegan’s “The Deadline” has been selected to be read at a new script workshop called Inciting Incident.

More than 400 buyers and sales agents, including new attendees from China, Germany, Italy, Japan and Mexico, will be attending the festival.

Other previously reported highlights of the 1998 edition include New Beat of Japan, Perspective Canada (which just added Robert Lepage’s Montreal fest curtain raiser “No”) and a 10th anni tribute to the Canadian Film Centre, docu series Real to Reel, Planet Africa and a retrospective of Kazakhstan director Darezhan Omirbaev.

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