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Tuesday, August 19, 1997

From Atom to Brad, festival to unspool 281 films

Canadian Press

TORONTO (CP) -- The world premiere of Seven Years in Tibet, the new Brad Pitt movie that tells the story of Austrian mountain-climber Heinrich Harrer, will be the closing-night gala choice at next month's Toronto International Film Festival.

And both Pitt and director Jean-Jacques Annaud will be at the festival for the screening, festival organizers announced Tuesday at a news conference to unveil the final program lineup.

"I think everybody will be completely knocked out by Seven Years in Tibet," said festival director Piers Handling about the story of Harrer's escape from a British POW camp in India, flight to the Himalayas and spiritual encounter with the then-teenaged Dalai Lama.

It was announced earlier that Atom Egoyan's The Sweet Hereafter, starring Ian Holm and Sarah Polley, will open the festival. The opener is traditionally a Canadian movie.

After screening between 1,500 to 2,000 films, officials have selected 281 titles in all from 58 countries.

They include:

  • The Assignment, a thriller about the hunt for terrorist Carlos the Jackal, starring Donald Sutherland and Ben Kingsley.
  • The North American premiere of Chinese Box, Wayne Wang's timely look at the impact on one old man of China's takeover of Hong Kong.
  • Iain Softley's The Wings of the Dove, another North American premiere, adapted from a Henry James novel, with Helena Bonham Carter.
  • Andrew Niccol's Gattaca, starring Ethan Hawke and Uma Thurman in a space-age cloning thriller.
  • Artemisia, Agnes Merlet's story of the life of a great Italian Renaissance painter.

Handling used the occasion to dispute the complaints of some that the festival, now considered second only to Cannes in importance, was Hollywood-dominated.

"There's not even films from all the studios here this year," he said. "When you're looking at 200 to 220 feature films and only 10 of them are from Hollywood, how can you say that Hollywood overwhelms your festival?"

Handling pointed to one of the highest-profile features, the film-noir throwback L.A. Confidential, as an American studio product but one that also crosses over "from festival into populace mass entertainment."

Nonetheless the Hollywood stars will be flocking to Toronto next month. In addition to Pitt and Steve Martin, other celebrities expected include Kevin Spacey, Kim Basinger, Anthony Hopkins, Peter O'Toole, Claudia Schiffer, Christopher Walken, Robert Duvall, Samuel L. Jackson, Kevin Kline and Robin Wright.

Handling says just about every director with a film being screened at the festival will also be coming.

Handling cites several factors for the festival's success. For one thing, unlike Cannes, it is largely non-competitive.

"It frees us up to show the best of world productions."

In addition, the fest draws on the city's huge multi-ethnic community, one that has a desire for a different set of films.

"And so you can run an African program, you can run a Balkans program, and you can fill the house."

Not all screenings are new material, though. There will be a specially restored version of Claude Jutra's 1971 Quebecois classic Mon Oncle Antoine, a new print of Mary Pickford's restored 1927 classic My Best Girl, and even a free outdoor screening of Howard Hawks' 1953 romp Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, with Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell.

The festival will also offer its traditional Midnight Madness program, known for its often eccentric selections. This year's titles include I Married a Strange Person, Orgazmo, The Ugly, and Sick: The Life and Death of Bob Flanagan, Supermasochist.

Festival by the numbers

Some facts on the Toronto International Film Festival, which runs for ten days in September:
  • Number of films: 281 (274 last year)
  • International submissions: 1,163
  • Countries represented: 58 (70 last year)
  • Features: 233 (224 last year)
  • Shorts: 49 (50 last year)
  • Canadian features: 21 (16 last year)
  • Canadian shorts: 31 (27 last year)
  • First features: 47
  • Minutes of film unspooled: 24,437
  • Longest film: Exile Shanghai (274 minutes)
  • Shortest film: Across and To Be a Black Man (four minutes)
  • Youngest filmmaker: Suzanna Fogel (17 years)
  • Oldest filmmaker: Manoel De Oliveira (89 years)

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