Toronto Film Festival 'madder than Cannes'
September 10, 1999
By Jamie Allen
TORONTO (CNN) -- Elaine Cassidy is standing in a sleek Oscar-worthy dress in a VIP section of the SkyDome. Around her buzz thousands of partying film fans and industry professionals, many of whom are craning their necks to see her.
They want a glimpse of the 19-year-old starlet of Atom Egoyan's newest film, "Felicia's Journey." A few hours earlier, it opened the 1999 Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) to rave reviews. But now, for Cassidy, it's party time. As disco music blares from the enclosed arena's sound system, she can hardly contain herself.
"I just want to go and dance," says Cassidy, "but I can't leave because I have so many nice people coming up to me to say they've enjoyed my performance. But I just want no one to know me right now."
Fat chance. This is the big time. The TIFF has been transformed in the past few years into one of the world's two top two film festivals, second only to Cannes in popularity with Hollywood and other major international film distributors. In fact, Cassidy says she ranks TIFF ahead of Cannes, where "Felicia's Journey" premiered earlier this year.
"The Toronto festival has been amazing," she says. "It was madder than Cannes and I thought nothing could be as mad as Cannes."
Bright lights, big names
For the next week and a half, Toronto is a mad, mad world.
This year's festival is attracting an estimated 250,000 people, including some of the top stars in the business. They're here to celebrate the latest celluloid triumphs, or market them.
Amir Malin, president of Artison Entertainment, is on hand to push "Felicia's Journey." (The movie, which stars Bob Hoskins as a serial killer who makes Hannibal Lecter look like a slob, seems to be all anyone can talk about this night).
"We think we have a great opportunity with this film," says Malin, "to showcase it for Academy consideration. Bob Hoskins' performance will definitely get Academy consideration."
Many other films are likely to get similar treatment. The festival is scheduled to screen 319 shorts and features. Among the top targets for media attention are:
Ang Lee's Civil War ode, "Ride With the Devil," starring Skeet Ulrich, Tobey Maguire and folk singer Jewel Kilcher
Lasse Hallström's interpretation of John Irving's book "The Cider House Rules," with a screenplay written by Irving (This is the second part of actor Maguire's double-whammy here -- he's in this film as well as "Ride With the Devil")
"Sweet and Lowdown," the new Woody Allen flick with Sean Penn and Uma Thurman
The Robin Williams vehicle "Jakob the Liar"
"Dogma," the Kevin Smith film starring Ben Affleck and Matt Damon, with a special appearance by Alanis Morissette as God
There are also areas of the festival that feature the best of Canadian film, first-time filmmakers, Spanish cinema and documentaries.
Egoyan, who comes from Toronto and opened the festival two years ago with his Oscar-nominated "The Sweet Hereafter," says TIFF offers something for everyone.
"The festival has elements of glamour, art, industry -- all the things you'd expect from many different types of festivals all combined into one," Egoyan says. "And it's very accessible. And it's very unique."
It's getting big enough to attract visitors without invitations, too. Festival director Piers Handling watched as protesters -- seeking better government treatment for Ontario's homeless population -- set up a purposeful racket outside opening-night site Roy Thomson Hall. The demonstrators made enough noise to put an end to the red-carpet treatment for stars: They were quickly ushered into the screening.
Handling knows this is, in a way, a political compliment: "The fact that it was such a high-profile event -- the film festival attracts a lot of media attention -- that's why they were there."
The festival director, caught in the maelstrom of the event, loves every glamorous minute of it.
"It's pretty damned crazy," Handling says. "It never really stops. I have breakfast in the morning about 8, 8:30, and I go to about 1 or 2 each morning. You run a lot; it's very intense.
"But you'll always feel a postmortem when the festival is over."
For now, it's just getting started.
Review: Vengeance in a town full of grief in 'The Sweet Hereafter'
The Toronto International Film Festival
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