June 28, 2005

Controversial ‘Water’ to open Toronto film festival

By Jeffrey Hodgson

TORONTO (Reuters) - Deepa Mehta's "Water," which triggeredviolent protests and death threats when it began filming inIndia five years ago, will open the Toronto International FilmFestival, organizers said on Tuesday.

The film, which is set in the 1930s and deals with Hinduchild widows, beat out movies by better known Canadianfilmmakers Atom Egoyan and David Cronenberg for the prestigiousopening slot.

"Water" gained notoriety in 2000 after hard-line Hinduprotesters burned its sets in India's northern state of UttarPradesh, saying the film distorted Indian culture.

Mehta, an Indian-born Canadian citizen, received deaththreats and had to abandon the production.

"It had started becoming more about doing the film at anycost, which is not healthy for the film, so I said 'stop'," shesaid.

"The film is absolutely not anti-Hindu ... the script wasread and passed by the very government that protested, so youwonder about that."

After taking a break, during which she made romantic comedy"Bollywood/Hollywood," she filmed "Water" in Sri Lanka.

"Water" completes a film trilogy that includes "Earth" and"Fire." "Fire," which portrays a lesbian relationship betweentwo Indians, was temporarily pulled from distribution in Indiaafter theaters showing it were attacked.

Mehta said she is frustrated that when discussing thecontroversies, people assume she is broadly criticizing thecountry she was born and raised in.

"When I talk about it, people think that I'm talking aboutIndians. It's not that. It's a group of Indian fundamentalists,which is not India. India has been very supportive of me," shesaid.

The director said she was shocked and thrilled when shefound out on Saturday that the world premiere of "Water" wouldkick off the Toronto festival, often ranked with Cannes,Venice, Berlin and Sundance as one of the world's mostinfluential. It runs from Sept. 8 to 17.

"I'm in good company. Atom and David are filmmakers Irespect and admire deeply, so I feel doubly thrilled," shesaid.

Egoyan's "Where the Truth Lies" and Cronenberg's "A Historyof Violence," which stars Viggo Mortensen and Ed Harris, willscreen as gala presentations.

Both movies were shown in competition at the Cannesfestival in May.

"We all know that Cannes is terrific and fun, but this isthe real festival ... we go out to Cannes and we play and thenwe bring it back home, and that's the screening that's reallythe most meaningful to us," said Cronenberg, director of "TheFly," "Naked Lunch" and "Dead Ringers."