For working journalists, the Toronto International Film Festival can be pleasure and pain, trying to squeeze the movies you want to see in between those you have to see and the interviews you have to do.
For the attendees in the movie industry, it’s an opportunity to attend screenings, time often spent showing off your text-message skills and your general importance and getting hooked up for the next party.
For the city, it’s an opportunity to show off a multicultural metropolis that works. The festival’s 10-day run - Thursday-Sept. 15 - also brings in about $33 million from tourism.
And for the thousands of movie lovers who descend annually on the world’s largest and most consumer-friendly film showcase, it’s something like heaven.
It allows them to see the Hollywood films premiered as Oscar bait - this year’s crop includes Ang Lee’s “Lust, Caution,” the Coen Brothers’ “No Country for Old Men,” Paul Haggis’ “In the Valley of Elah,” Sean Penn’s “Into the Wild,” “Elizabeth II” with Cate Blanchett and “Michael Clayton” with George Clooney.
All those movies will open in the next few months. The true festival hound seeks out films that rarely get bookings outside New York, L.A., Chicago and Detroit, or movies by aging masters like Eric Rohmer, Claude Chabrol and Manoel de Oliveira that increasingly fail to attract North American distributors.
Or they spend hours with the $40 catalogs searching out films that might never be seen again outside the festival circuit, but look worth the chance. On my list this year is the final film from the late Romanian director C ristian Nemescu, “California Dreamin’ (Endless)”; the Czech Republic drama “Empties,” the last in a fascinating three-film trilogy by Jan Sverak, and “Jellyfish,” a joint Israeli-French production that won the Camera d’Or at Cannes.
Of course, if you’re caught up in celebrity culture, you can see more stars getting in and out of limos and walking red carpets in Toronto in three days than the paparazzi in Los Angeles shoot in a month. Set up shop on the sidewalk at the Four Seasons or Intercontinental hotels or at any of the theaters where their films will premiere and snap and swoon away. The cops won’t bother you; they’re too busy trying to keep the crime rate low.
Scheduled to attend the fest this year are Clooney, Blanchett, Brad Pitt (star of the hard-sell cowboy drama “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford”), Jodie Foster, Reese Witherspoon, cranky ol’ Tommy Lee Jones (certain to be Oscar-nominated for one of the two films at the fest, “Valley of Elah” or “No Country for Old Men”), Kevin Bacon, Jake Gyllenhaal, Naomi Watts, Don Cheadle, Viggo Mortensen, Javier Bardem, Scarlett Johansson and even the usually festival-adverse Woody Allen.
Even Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter, subjects of Jonathan Demme’s documentary “Man From Plains, ” are coming. I will be keeping an eye out for my Dayton, Ohio, homeboy Phil Donohue, who will be touting his anti-Bush doc “Body of War,” and hanging out with Eddie Vedder, who will perform songs he wrote for the film. (Vedder will also have to make time for Penn, since he wrote and performs songs for “Into the Wild.”)
It’s amazing what can be seen in Toronto for 10 days every September - on and off the screen.