Button-down fest has low-key start

Toronto festgoers enjoy 'Last' opener, await buzz pix

TORONTO — For one night at least, it seemed like the Toronto Intl. Film Festival was actually an all-Canadian event.

“This is the world’s finest film festival,” said Ontario’s Minister of Culture Tim Hudak, dressed in black tie, setting the distinctly corporate/government-funded tone for the opening soiree Sept. 6. As always, the opening-night selection was Canadian, but this year’s pic, Vancouver-based helmer Bruce Sweeney’s “Last Wedding,” was decidedly lower-profile than usual.

Nonetheless, the formally attired crowd warmly embraced the quirky relationship comedy, and most observers figured the pic was a surprisingly appropriate opener in that it wasn’t quite as dark as the usual Egoyan/Cronenberg fare.

Still, the pic may have raised a few eyebrows among the suits watching some of the kinkier scenes in Sweeney’s raw low-budgeter, notably a hilarious sequence in which a college lit prof is pleasured by a young co-ed as they discuss the finer points of Canadian fiction.

The Astral Media-sponsored opening bash was light on Hollywood star wattage, likely the only night at the fest that will be the case. So, prior to the studio onslaught, the stars were all of the homegrown variety, with “Last Wedding” thesp and prolific Canuck “It” girl Molly Parker generating the most camera action. Canadian auteur Atom Egoyan and his thesp/wife Arsinee Khanjian added to the Great White North celebrity quotient. But the evening was somewhat subdued, and even the Toronto film festival hot spot Bistro 990 was unusually empty.

Going into the first weekend, most acquisition interest centered on Rose Troche’s “The Safety of Objects,” produced by Killer Films and starring Glenn Close and Dermot Mulroney.

Other pics generating heat included Jill Sprecher’s “Thirteen Conversations About One Thing,” which stars Matthew McConaughey, John Turturro and Clea DuVall; and Bart Freundlich’s “World Traveler,” starring Billy Crudup and Julianne Moore.

The Argentine film “The Son of the Bride” was so well received at the recently wrapped Montreal film fest that a special screening has been skedded here for acquisitions execs. North American rights are available.

Also on offer to North American rights buyers is Gregor Jordan’s “Buffalo Soldiers,” with Joaquin Phoenix and Anna Paquin, which screens this week.

Reaction was upbeat for “Shine” director Scott Hicks’ “Hearts in Atlantis,” starring Anthony Hopkins, and Warner Bros.’ Antoine Fuqua-directed, Denzel Washington starrer “Training Day.”

The Toronto fest ends Sept. 15.

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