British films dominate Toronto Film Festival

British films dominate Toronto Film Festival
British films dominate Toronto Film Festival

John Hiscock reports from Toronto

26 September 2008

British films and filmmakers dominated this year’s Toronto film festival, with Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire captivating the critics and winning the highly-prized People’s Choice award.

Written by The Full Monty writer Simon Beaufoy about an orphan from the slums of Mumbai who competes in Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? and is accused of cheating, Slumdog Millionaire was described by Variety, the film industry newspaper, as “a blast……driven by fantastic energy and a torrent of vivid images.”

Boyle, who normally confines his filmmaking activies to Britain, did the rounds of the after-screening parties along with his two young stars, Dev Patel and Freida Pinto, who seemed stunned by all the attention.

One of the first Brits to walk the red carpet was Guy Ritchie, whose film RockNRolla was having its North American premiere and received decidedly mixed reviews. The writer-director, whose wife Madonna was not with him because she was on her world concert tour, raised some eyebrows by telling interviewers that despite his film’s title and his wife’s occupation he is “not a pop guy” and prefers Johnny Cash-style songs with a narrative.

At the same time Richard Branson was on local television promoting the Virgin rock festival on Toronto Island, which featured Paul Weller and Oasis, as well as several supporting bands from Britain. And Ricky Gervais, whose film Ghost Town was screened at the festival, bemused local interviewers by telling them, with a straight face, “I used to do tricks for heroin.”

Tilda Swinton and Brad Pitt flew in from the Venice festival for the Burn Without Reading premiere and Keira Knightley and Ralph Fiennes came from England to support The Duchess, along with its director Saul Dibb. Others who attended the ten-day festival included Michael Caine, Kristin Scott Thomas, Liam Neeson, Colin Firth, Thandie Newton, Tom Wilkinson, Ben Barnes, Ben Kingsley, Gerard Butler, Rachel Weisz and directors Danny Boyle, Mike Leigh and Michael Winterbottom.

Jimmy Page and The Edge were also in town with Jack White for the much talked-about documentary It Might Get Loud, the history of the rock guitar as told and played by three generations of rockers.

The festival, which now rivals Venice as the second most important after Cannes, this year screened 312 films from 64 different countries and attracted almost 1,000 journalists. It hosted seven world premieres, including Pride and Glory starring Colin Farrell; Dean Spanley with Peter O’Toole and Jeremy Northam and Nothing But The Truth, which stars Kate Beckinsale.

For the first time this year the organisers took the festival into the streets by setting up a “fan zone” in one of the city’s main squares, with free concerts and movies daily.

And while serious movie buffs debated the merits of such thoughtful fare as the apartheid drama Skin and the Palestinian documentary The Heart of Enin, celebrity watchers were kept busy discussing the possibility of an embarrassing encounter between Brad Pitt and his ex-wife Jennifer Aniston (they reportedly met for lunch) and pondering whether Anne Hathaway would actually wear Prada (she co-starred in last year’s The Devil Wears Prada) on the red carpet for her latest film The Brothers Bloom. (She didn’t).

Fittingly, the festival opened with the Canadian film Passchendaele, writer-director-actor Paul Gross’s romantic epic set against the background of World War One.

But the British had the final say. The prestigious closing night slot went to Stone Of Destiny, the real-life story of how a group of Scottish students set out to steal back the Stone of Scone from Westminster Abbey.

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