The Brits dominate Toronto Film Festival

The Brits dominate Toronto Film Festival
The Brits dominate Toronto Film Festival

The Toronto Film Festival has once again proved a sparkling showcase for British films, filmmakers and actors. The 11-day event, which features more than 600 movies ranging from a silent film to a 15-hour documentary, has become one of the most important platforms for new movies, and, although no single film has galvanised audiences the way The King’s Speech and Black Swan did last year or Slumdog Millionaire did in 2008, the festival exposure has pushed several independent, British, low-budget films into the limelight.

Some, such as Shame, Steve McQueen’s provocative drama, which plumbs the depths of sexual addiction, and Nick Broomfield’s Sarah Palin: You Betcha!, which chronicles the documentary-maker’s quest to unveil the “real” Sarah Palin, caused a stir with critics and audiences alike and were snapped up by US distributors immediately.

Keira Knightley

Lasse Hallstrom’s comedy of bureaucratic buffoonery, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, which stars Emily Blunt, Ewan McGregor and Kristin Scott Thomas, also found a distributor, while a positive buzz surrounded 360, which will open the London Film Festival next month, and Michael Winterbottom’s Trishna, both of which were attracting offers from bidders as the festival wound down to its final day this coming Sunday.

Toronto has always been a magnet for star-spotters, this year more so than ever because the festival has moved its offices from the tony Yorkville area to the grittier Entertainment District in the city’s downtown, where the bars stay open until 4am and the many clubs and hotels are venues for the scores of post-premiere parties and celebrations which the festival is known for.

The hundreds of people camping outside restaurants, hotels, clubs and behind the barriers lining the red carpets clamouring for a glimpse of famous faces were not disappointed: the stars were out in force. They included festival favourite George Clooney, who was, in effect, campaigning against himself by promoting the political drama The Ides of March, which he directed, as well as tub-thumping for director Alexander Payne’s Hawaiian-based bittersweet family saga The Descendants, which he stars in.

The actor, who was accompanied by his latest girlfriend, former wrestler Stacey Kleiber, seemed to take in two or three events a night. In contrast, his friend and co-star in the Ocean’s Eleven movies, Brad Pitt, made one of his few public appearances on the red carpet with Angelina Jolie for the world premiere of Moneyball, a true-life baseball tale that he co-produced and stars in and which proved a massive hit with the premiere audience.


The arrival of Madonna for W.E., the movie she directed about Wallis Simpson and King Edward, generated a publicity blitz and some controversy when a festival volunteer reported that, just before a Madonna press conference, she and half a dozen others were told to turn and face the wall when Madonna approached so that she could walk down a hallway without them looking at her. Her spokeswoman denied it and a festival official blamed the private security firm protecting the actress.

British stars, too, were much in evidence at premieres and on red carpets across the city. Keira Knightley was there with boyfriend James Righton and a personal bodyguard in tow to talk about her role as a mental patient in David Cronenberg’s tale of Freud and Jung, A Dangerous Method, for which she is already attracting talk of awards; Emily Blunt was doing double duty with Salmon Fishing in the Yemen and Your Sister’s Sister; Rachel Weisz, too, was starring in two festival movies, The Deep Blue Sea and 360; and Tilda Swinton was actively promoting We Need to Talk About Kevin, which she stars in and executive-produced. On the male side, Hugh Dancy was there for both Martha Marcy May Marlene and Hysteria; Ralph Fiennes was promoting Coriolanus; and macho actors Clive Owen and Jason Statham hit the red carpet and party circuit together for their action thriller Killer Elite.

The absence of Meryl Streep, whose forthcoming portrayal of Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady is already being talked about, shone a brighter light on Glenn Close, who was very much in evidence and is expected to be Streep’s main rival for the best-actress Oscar this year. “She’s in it to win it,” said one observer of Close’s charm offensive. Her film, Albert Nobbs, in which she portrays the cross-dressing title character trying to survive in 19th-century Dublin, has received glowing reviews and is expected to give Close her first Oscar nomination since 1989’s Dangerous Liaisons. The 64-year-old actress first played the role on Broadway 30 years ago and says she has been hoping to bring it to the screen ever since.

The festival broke with a long-standing tradition this year by choosing as its opening movie a documentary, From the Sky Down. This is Davis Guggenheim’s look at the making of U2’s Achtung Baby, one of several music-based movies that brought Bono, the Edge and a phalanx of musicians, including Pearl Jam, Neil Young and John Lydon, who executive-produced and stars (as his old self Johnny Rotten) in the comedy Sons of Norway, to the festival.

Paul McCartney wasn’t there for the world premiere of The Love We Make, a documentary by Albert Maysles which follows the ex-Beatle around New York as he prepares for a 9/11 memorial concert, but he recorded an introduction to the film.

As the festival wound down, the two most eligible visiting bachelors summarised their Toronto experiences. George Clooney, only half-jokingly, said: “I’ve been drinking mostly. That’s what I do when I come to Toronto.” And Gerard Butler, like Clooney a nightly partygoer, said: “I woke up this morning, and I’ve never been so exhausted in my life.”

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