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TORONTO ’08 DISPATCH | Canadians Kick Off Fest; Venice – Telluride Stoke Pre-TIFF Buzz; and Discover

TORONTO '08 DISPATCH | Canadians Kick Off Fest; Venice - Telluride Stoke Pre-TIFF Buzz; and Discover

The local news here wondered during their early evening broadcasts if it would rain on the party Thursday night, but in the end, the Toronto International Film Festival‘s opening night went off with only a minimum amount of precipitation. The 33rd edition of the festival, which many consider the world’s second most important, maintained tradition by launching with a Canadian film. Paul Gross‘ “Passchendaele,” one of the country’s largest productions ever. And the film received all the usual fanfare, including gawkers, press, fans and the usual trappings of an opening night gala. Canada’s armed forces also turned out in the film’s honor with a nod to the film’s storyline complete with tanks and uniformed soldiers flanking the red carpet at the post-screening bash.

Set during World War I, the film follows a wounded Canadian soldier who falls in love on the homefront and then returns to the battlefield for the third battle of Ypres, also knows as “Passchendaele.” Gross, a renowned Canadian film and theatre actor, is perhaps best known to American audiences for his television roles, on Canadian exports “Due South” and “Slings and Arrows.”

“I first started thinking about [‘Passchendaele’] back when the Russians were still in Afghanistan,” said an animated and youthful looking Gross during a press conference the following morning. “I never thought that eventually the Taliban woud take over…” Gross alluded to Canada’s current involvement in Afghanistan — a divisive topic up here — after being asked if he saw the film’s story as being analogous to today’s war in the troubled Middle Eastern country. “I think we’ll find out if the film has relevance to us [today],” he concluded.

Typical at any film festival, questions arose about financing, which unleashed a complicated explanation on how getting government money in Canada is a challenge due to federal regulations on the amount of private vs. public expenditure. But nevermind weeding through the bureaucracy of it all, “Passchendaele” reportedly cost $20 million to produce, a huge sum for an industry used to American largesse when it comes to production. “We were the biggest production in Alberta last year,” said co-producer Niv Fichman who went on to praise Canada’s filmmaking industry. A declining U.S. dollar and the writers’ strike helped to make “Passchendaele” the biggest production in the Rocky Mountain province, which Fichman credited as a main reason for the project’s success. “Not only were we the biggest in [Alberta] but we had the talent of the Canadian crew, and we had their heart…” [Brian Brooks]

Telluride – Venice – Toronto Express: Boyle, Coens, Demme, Denis, and Bigelow?

While buzz surrounding the Coen Brothers‘ “Burn After Reading” was primarily positive coming out of its opening slot in Venice, fueling interest in tonight’s Toronoto debut, heat around a handful of films screening in the early days of the Toronto International Film Festival has intensified in the wake of screenings at the Venice and Telluride film festivals.

Greatly anticipated in Toronto amidst growing buzz is Darren Aronofsky‘s “The Wrestler,” starring Mickey Rourke. The film will be unveiled for the public on Sunday, ahead of Monday’s press and industry showings. Reviewing the film out of Venice this week, Variety‘s Todd McCarthy praised the actor for his comeback, “Not only does he pull it off, but Rourke creates a galvanizing, humorous, deeply moving portrait that instantly takes its place among the great, iconic screen performances.” The available film is expected to hit the market with a bang here.

Based on great Venice buzz, festival-goers are no doubt anticipating Jonathan Demme‘s “Rachel Getting Married.” The Sony Pictures Classics film has generated great clips in Venice and is set to debut on Saturday here in Toronto. Also, Kathryn Bigelow‘s “Hurt Locker” may similarly stir Toronto attendees, that is, if a film rep’s hype is accurate. Yesterday, an insider pitched indieWIRE that the film garnered a 10-minute standing ovation on the Lido.

Earlier this week, word out of Venice indicated that Claire Denis‘ latest, “35 Rhums” was a winner. In indieWIRE, Shane Danielsen called it, “Her finest piece of work since 1999’s superb ‘Beau Travail‘,” adding, “it seemed like nothing so much as her version of a late Ozu, a latter-day response to ‘Equinox Flower‘ and ‘Late Spring‘ — and like those films, it’s about the bonds of family, and people being kind and desiring the best, for themselves and for each other. Yet it’s no mere homage; rather, it’s imbued with Denis’ own, unmistakeable sensibility, the patient and watchful eye that disinguished earlier Paris-set masterpieces like ‘I Can’t Sleep‘ and ‘Friday Night’.” At the expense of other film’s vying for their attention at the same time, industry, critics and bloggers filled Thursday’s press and industry showing to judge for themselves.

Meanwhile, a number of films nabbed strong buzz in Telluride, ahead of Toronto, including a pair of IFC films: Steve McQueen‘s “Hunger” and Ole Christian Madsen‘s “Flame and Citron.” And, Danny Boyle’s “Slumdog Millionaire” was an unqualified hit with attendees at the intimate Telluride Film Festival last weekend where, just as with “Juno” last year, the film was shown as a surprise sneak preview. Explaining that his film “was meant have its world premiere in Toronto,” Boyle instructed the Telluride crowd: “Keep quiet, only if you didn’t like it. If you do like it, tell everyone.” [Eugene Hernandez]

Toronto Discoveries

Prior the 2008 Toronto International Film Festival, indieWIRE published interviews with filmmakers in the Discovery section of the festival, which TIFF describes as a showcase for new and emerging filmmakers from contemporary international cinema. Ten of the twenty-six filmmakers featured in the program answered a series of questions, and the following are links to the responses:

“Medicine For Melancholy,” director Barry Jenkins

“Lymelife,” director Derick Martini

“The Stoning of Soraya M”, director Cyrus Nowrasteh

“Zift”,” director Javor Gardev

“Rain”, director Maria Govan

“Cold Lunch”, director Eva Sorhaug

“Apron Springs”, director Sima Urale

“Vacation”, director Hajime Kadoi

“Hooked”, director Adrian Sitaru

“Daytime Drinking”, director Young-seok Noh

Get the latest from the Toronto International Film Festival in indieWIRE’s special section.

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