The Toronto International Film Festival opens Thursday with 335 films from 64 countries, a star-studded array of guests and enough paparazzi to fill Lake Ontario. It also has something a lot of festivals don’t: One-stop shopping, for a film industry that doesn’t travel like it used to.
Opening the 10-day cinematic smorgasbord is “Creation,” which stars Paul Bettany as Charles Darwin and his real-life wife, Jennifer Connelly, as Mrs. Darwin, and is that rare thing, a non-Canadian movie opening what is one of the country’s premier cultural events. (Festival CEO Piers Handling says the festival still is devoted to Canadian cinema, but apparently nothing homegrown was deemed flashy enough for its 33rd year.)
What remains to be seen is how much of a market Toronto turns out to be. The biggest event of its kind in North America, and one of the two or three most important in the world, Toronto marks the unofficial opening of the festival year and is also seen as an awards-season barometer — the winner of the festival’s 2008 People’s Choice award was “Slumdog Millionaire,” which went on to win best picture at the Academy Awards.
TIFF can also serve to strangle films in their cradle: “All the King’s Men” with Sean Penn was shown in 2006, and essentially left the festival on life support.
Toronto streets will be awash in celebrity. Expected to wade in are George Clooney, Nicolas Cage, Penelope Cruz, Colin Firth, Colin Farrell, Michael Douglas, Michael Sheen, Michael Cera, Michael Caine, Naomi Watts, Ellen Page, Woody Harrelson, Mariah Carey and Viggo Mortensen.
Even Oprah Winfrey, who has thrown her support behind the controversial drama “Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire,” will be hitting T-town. It’s all “for the love of film,” as TIFF’s motto puts it — a love for which, in Toronto, there is no such thing as too much.