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Oscar hopefuls, political dramas head to Toronto

September 8, 2005

By Jeffrey Hodgson

TORONTO (Reuters) – The Toronto International Film Festival
kicked off its 30th edition on Thursday with movies about
violence, sexuality and the stress of a post-9/11 world set to
share a stage with some of Hollywood’s biggest stars.

The 10-day event, which film critic Roger Ebert calls the
start of Hollywood’s “Oscar season,” will screen more than 250
features on subjects as diverse as female miners, gay cowboys,
would-be suicide bombers, child brides and Japanese emperor
Hirohito.

Johnny Depp, Charlize Theron, Steve Martin, Gwyneth
Paltrow, Anthony Hopkins, Cameron Diaz, Viggo Mortensen and
Jackie Chan are just some of stars expected at the festival,
which ranks with Cannes, Venice, Berlin and Sundance as one of
the world’s most influential.

The festival begins on Thursday evening with the world
premiere of “Water,” a controversial film about the plight of
an eight-year-old Hindu child widow by Indian-born director
Deepa Mehta.

The movie sparked controversy before it was even made.
Angry Hindu fundamentalists threw its sets into the river and
burned the director in effigy when Mehta first tried to make
the film in India in 2000, even though she had government
permission.

But Mehta refused to give up on her project and said that
after a period of reflection on what went wrong, she remade it
with a new cast in Sri Lanka. “It was fabulous working there. I
didn’t have to go to a single political meeting. I just
directed the film,” she told Reuters on Thursday.

Closing the festival on September 17 will be gritty crime
drama “Edison” featuring the unlikely pairing of Academy Award
winners Kevin Spacey and Morgan Freeman with pop star Justin
Timberlake and rapper LL Cool J.

The movies shown in between will come from more than 50
countries, with over 100 being shown for the first time before
any audience.

Last year’s festival offerings — including “Ray,” “Hotel
Rwanda,” “Being Julia,” “Sideways” and “The Sea Inside” —
became major contenders in the Oscar race and critics will be
on the lookout for next year’s award winners.

Philip Seymour Hoffman’s starring role in the biography
“Capote” and director Ang Lee’s revisionist Western “Brokeback
Mountain” are already being spoken of as likely nominees.

But festival organizers said a string of lower profile
films, many dealing with anxiety that followed the terror
attacks in New York, Washington, London and Madrid, would offer
equally worthy viewing.

TERROR ATTACKS, WAR

“Sorry, Haters” tells the story of an Arab immigrant cab
driver whose brother has been caught up in America’s security
net after the attacks.

“Paradise Now” follows the lives to two young Palestinian
men in the days before they are called up to become suicide
bombers, a theme also taken up in a U.S. setting in “The War
Within.”

Documentaries “The Smell of Paradise,” a study of Islamic
extremism, and “Why We Fight,” about U.S. military policy, both
examine issues at the heart of the ongoing conflicts in Iraq
and Afghanistan.

The festival’s director of communications, Gabrielle Free,
said the selection of several films along these same themes was
not deliberate, given that they were picked by a variety of
programmers.

“September 11 is now four years behind us, and I think
that’s about the amount of time you would expect for some
thought-provoking films (to emerge),” she said.

Equally provoking will be the latest films from Canada’s
two most famous directors, both of which debuted in competition
at Cannes.

David Cronenberg’s “A History of Violence” tells the story
of the manager of a small town diner whose life is thrown into
chaos after thwarting an attempted robbery.

And Atom Egoyan’s “Where the Truth Lies” revolves around a
scandal that drives apart a pair of entertainers played by
Kevin Bacon and Colin Firth. The movie has already been slapped
with a NC-17 rating for its explicit sexuality.

(With additional reporting by Arthur Spiegelman in Toronto)