There's one star who definitely stands to make his or her presence felt when the Toronto International Film Festival begins on Sept. 10, but it's not who you might expect, i.e. George Clooney (though he does return as the star of two new movies: 'Up in the Air' and 'The Men Who Stare at Goats'.)

Nor is it Clooney's good friend Matt Damon, who's here with Steven Soderbergh's new satire 'The Informant!' It's not even Oprah Winfrey, who'll be promoting 'Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire,' the Sundance prizewinner she exec-produced.




There's one star who definitely stands to make his or her presence felt when the Toronto International Film Festival begins on Sept. 10, but it's not who you might expect, i.e. George Clooney (though he does return as the star of two new movies: 'Up in the Air' and 'The Men Who Stare at Goats'.)

Nor is it Clooney's good friend Matt Damon, who's here with Steven Soderbergh's new satire 'The Informant!' It's not even Oprah Winfrey, who'll be promoting 'Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire,' the Sundance prizewinner she exec-produced.


Give up? It's Paul Bettany, the British actor who stars in 'Creation' and 'The Young Victoria', TIFF's opening and closing night films.
This is a coup for the 'Wimbledon' star, seeing as he's currently best known for two achievements: playing an evil, self-flagellating albino in 'The Da Vinci Code' and for successfully wooing Jennifer Connelly. (They star as Mr. and Mrs. Charles Darwin in Jon Amiel's biopic about the original evolutionist, while Bettany flies solo in 'The Young Victoria' as former British PM Lord Melbourne.)

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Five Homegrown Films to See at TIFF
'Cooking With Stella'
The latest effort by the team behind 'Water' and 'Bollywood/Hollywood' is a clever and enjoyable satire about Canadian diplomats in New Delhi and the local servants who aren't so servile at all.
TIFF
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Five Homegrown Films to See at TIFF

    'Cooking With Stella'
    The latest effort by the team behind 'Water' and 'Bollywood/Hollywood' is a clever and enjoyable satire about Canadian diplomats in New Delhi and the local servants who aren't so servile at all.

    TIFF

    'Defendor'
    This nifty dark comedy stars Woody Harrelson as the masked and somewhat dim-witted protector of all that is good and decent in...Hamilton, Ontario.

    TIFF

    'J'ai tue ma mere'
    A prizewinner at Cannes, this energetic debut feature by former child actor Xavier Dolan is the sometimes-abrasive, sometimes-tender story of a warring mother and son.

    TIFF

    Leslie, My Name Is Evil
    Imagine 'Inglourious Basterds' except with the Manson Family instead of the Nazis, and you're halfway to getting this gleefully gonzo effort from Reginald Harkema ('Monkey Warfare').

    TIFF

    The Wild Hunt
    Set among live-action role players who do battle with foam-covered swords in the forest outside Montreal, Alexandre Franchi's debut is a mythic adventure story about play-fighting with a very serious edge.

    TIFF

When TIFF made its opening and closing film announcements in August, Bettany's gain was deemed as our nation's loss to many critics and industry folks. The reason for the controversy was not necessarily a collective distaste for Bettany, but the fact that these slots have traditionally gone to Canadian films, thereby boosting the profile for homegrown productions. Canadian films typically struggle to get much attention during the country's most glamorous cinematic extravaganza.

The last time a Canadian film didn't open TIFF was 1996 - ironically, the movie that year was 'Fly Away Home', which might as well have been ours since most of Anna Paquin's co-stars were Canada geese (and the star happened to be from here).

In recent years, opening-night honours have gone to the likes of 'The Sweet Hereafter', 'Water', 'Fugitive Pieces' and last year's war epic 'Passchendaele'. Hussein Amarshi of Mongrel Media, one of Canada's most prominent film distribution companies, had this to say in a story about the controversy in The Globe and Mail: "The thing is that there has always been this unspoken understanding that opening night is a Canadian film. If they're opening it up to any film from around the world, then it better be the best film out there."
The fact that 'Creation' comes from the same director who made the 2003 flop 'The Core' only adds insult to injury.

It's not that TIFF is suddenly lacking in Canadian content - 29 features are Canadian productions or co-productions, along with over 60 shorts. Among the most anticipated of these films are 'J'ai tue ma mere', a hit at Cannes by 20-year-old Montrealer Xavier Dolan, and 'Chloe', a new drama by Atom Egoyan, maker of many fest-openers in the past.

One notable omission is Vincenzo Natali's 'Splice', a science-fiction thriller starring Sarah Polley and Adrien Brody as scientists who mess with the wrong genes. A Canada/France co-production budgeted at more than US$25 million, it's among the most expensive Canadian films in recent years and would therefore have seemed like an obvious choice for TIFF's opener.

While industry watchers have spent a lot of time speculating why TIFF's programmers chose 'Creation' (over numerous alternatives), the controversy is a red herring. That opening-night slot may have great symbolic value to anyone who cares about Canadian cinema, but it's only of limited value in the effort to encourage Canadians to see their own movies. A plum spot at the festival is not nearly as valuable as more tangible ways of promoting a Canadian movie when it's facing heavy competition on its opening weekend (long after the excitement of that TIFF premiere has faded).

For example, 'Passchendaele' did not become the highest-grossing Canadian film last year because it was TIFF's opening night gala. That's not to suggest all the pictures of Paul Gross living large in Toronto hurt the film, but its success had more to do with the fact that it was one of a tiny number of Canadian movies that ever get the same kind of marketing push as the average Hollywood product. It boasted everything from trailers to TV commercials to posters and enough prints to put the film into more than two theatres at once.

Some taxpayers may not be happy to know that the vast majority of Canadian film production, like TIFF and other festivals, depends on public funding. The country's filmmakers do not benefit from the same kind of quota and incentive systems that get Canadian musical acts onto radio and keep Canadian programs on TV. Nor do their movies often get much in the way of dollars for P&A (biz speak for prints and advertising).

In such a wintry climate, every little bit helps, and that includes snapping up some of the buzz circulating TIFF. But while it's no surprise that the nation's film-biz types want to feel like they're part of the action during the festival (and are understandably upset at being slighted), what happens during all of the other evenings of the year deserves a bit more attention.

All we can do now is sit back and hope the Hollywood of the north can channel some of its ire into the harder work of promoting Canadian movies after the red carpets have been rolled up and the circus has left town.