August 22, 2006

Toronto film festival promises stars, premieres

By Cameron French

TORONTO (Reuters) - The 31st annual Toronto Film festival
will attract more star power than usual this year with Brad
Pitt, Russell Crowe, Jennifer Lopez, Reese Witherspoon and Sean
Penn among the Oscar winners and Hollywood heavyweights
expected to attend.

Organizers said on Tuesday that the 10-day festival, which
starts on September 7, will include 352 feature films and
shorts from 61 countries and 107 world premieres.

The festival has grown in influence over the years and is
now seen, along with Cannes, Berlin Sundance, as one of the
leading showcases for the movies that will be vying for Oscars
and other awards early next year.

Actors Liam Neeson, Jude Law, Dustin Hoffman, Peter
O'Toole, and Anthony Hopkins are also expected to bolster the
festival's celebrity contingent.

Most of the features will be world or North America
premieres and many of the films are entered in the hope of
finding distributors from the 5,000 industry professionals who
will be attending.

"The festival's tentacles are truly in every part of the
world," said festival director Piers Handling.

Among the movies premiering are "All the King's Men,'
starring Penn in a remake of the classic film about the rise
and fall of a Southern politician, and German director Werner
Herzog's "Rescue Dawn," about an American airman who escapes
from a Laotian prison during the Vietnam War.

Also being screened is Ridley Scott's 'A Good Year,"
starring Crowe and Albert Finney about a British businessman
who takes a year off in Provence.

Red-carpet treatment will be given to "The Journals of Knud
Rasmussen," directed by Zacharias Kunuk and Norman Cohn, which
will kick off the festival and "Dixie Chicks: Shut up and
Sing," one of the more politically-charged offerings.

The film focuses on the aftermath and fallout of Dixie
Chicks singer Natalie Maines' criticism of President Bush at a
concert in London in 2003.

"The Journals" is based on the writings of a 1920s Danish
ethnographer about the clash of cultures between European
Arctic explorers and Inuit natives.

"Not only do our selections have a big impact (on) ... the
Oscars and the Golden Globes, but increasingly the biggest
directors and stars are coming here to Toronto to introduce
their new films to audiences for the first time and to secure
distribution," said festival co-director Noah Cowan.

The festival will include Spike Lee's four-hour documentary
"When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts" which tells the
story of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.