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As it turns 30, the life of Toronto Film Fest is unspoiled.

What started out in 1976 as a forum for films showcased at other festivals, has developed into a successful cinematic event in its own right. The Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) boasts a public eager for the best in contemporary films; international attention from media, distributors, producers and buyers; along with a galaxy of stars. September 8-17 marks the Fest's 30th anniversary edition, featuring 11 world premieres and nine North American premieres, in addition to over 300 more screenings of films from almost every corner of the world.

In 1976, William Marshall, Henk Van der Kolk and partner Dusty Cohl launched TIFF as a public, non-competitive event, in which commercial films were presented alongside art house, international and cutting-edge titles, and the work of Canadians was spotlighted. "It wasn't a question of us trying to impose a festival on this city. People were starving for something like this," said William Marshall. The Festival responded to the demands of an audience eager to explore new, challenging cinema and, though Cohl admitted the early years weren't easy, Toronto audiences enthusiastically embraced the fledgling Festival.

Current Festival director Piers Handling attended the first year as a public filmgoer and recalled, "You could tell right away that this was something that was going to catch on. The first program was really quite amazing, with films by Jacques Rivette, Wim Wenders and Alexander Kluge. The seeds were definitely there," he insisted. Operating on a budget of C$221,000 and attended by 35,000 people, the first year included 127 feature films from 30 countries.

Today, the Toronto International Film Festival Group (TIFFG), also includes Cinematheque Ontario, Film Circuit, Sprockets Toronto International Film Festival for Children, Talk Cinema, the Film Reference Library, and Industry Programming and Services. Additional events throughout the year include Canada's Top Ten, an annual industry and public initiative inaugurated by TIFFG to recognize and honor excellence in Canadian cinema.

But TIFF--the main attraction--has come a long way in three decades. In 2004, Brian D. Johnson remarked in weekly newsmagazine Macleans, "TIFF now ranks as the world's most vital and comprehensive film festival," while BBC News reported that same year, "The Toronto Film Festival has emerged as one of the most influential festivals in the world, where numerous multi-million dollar deals are done."

With an avid and educated public jamming some 21 cinemas each day, the 10day event is a litmus test for industry delegates curious about the critical and popular response to their product.

This year's Festival opens with the world premiere Gala Presentation of Water, one of three Canadian Gala Presentations. The film is directed by acclaimed filmmaker Deepa Mehta and is the final film in her trilogy on the elements--following Fire (1996) and Earth (1998). Set in pre-independent India, against the backdrop of Mahatma Gandhi's rise to power, the film tells the story of eight-year old child-bride Chuyia, who is exiled to a widow's ashram after her husband dies.

"We are extremely pleased to have Deepa Mehta open the Toronto International Film Festival, for the first time, with this extraordinary film," commented Noah Cowan, Festival co-director. "The Festival has been a long time supporter of her career and she has been a wonderful partner for us in building this festival and organization."

"Canadian filmmakers are creating some of the world's finest cinema," said Piers Handling, director and CEO of the TIFFG. "The Festival is proud to provide a nurturing, supportive, and inclusive environment for this growth to continue into the future."

David Cronenberg's A History of Violence receives its North American premiere as a Gala Presentation. Based on the John Wagner/Vince Locke graphic novel of the same name, the film stars Viggo Mortensen, Maria Bello, William Hurt, Ed Harris, and Ashton Holmes. Where the Truth Lies, the new film from Atom Egoyan, receives its North American premiere as a Gala Presentation as well.

Two titles have been added to the "Masters" category, which introduces new works by the world's most established and renowned filmmakers. This year's films to date include Indian director Buddhadev Dasgupta's Kaalpurush, a world premiere, and U.S. director Ang Lee's grokeback Mountain, a North American premiere.

World, international, and North American premieres have been added to this year's "Visions" category, showcasing the most daring and challenging work in cinema today: American production The Quiet, from filmmaker Jamie Babbit; New Zealand's 50 Ways of Staying Fabulous, from Stewart Main; and Australian and U.K. co-production, The Proposition, directed by John Hillcoat and written by musician Nick Cave.

This year's "Special Presentations" include the world premieres of Anand Tucker's Shopgirl, starring Claire Danes, Steve Martin, and Jason Schwartzman; Jason Reitman's Thank you for Smoking, starring Aaron Eckhart, Robert Duvall, and Katie Holmes; first-time director Paul Mayeda Berges' Mistress of Spices, starring Aishwarya Rai and Dylan McDermott; and the international premiere of Richard E. Grant's Wah-Wah (A South African, French and British co-production), starring Nicholas Hoult, Gabriel Byrne, and Emily Watson.

To date, "Contemporary World Cinema," which showcases the best in international film, includes seven titles hailing from eight countries.

This year's "Discovery" category includes six new directors and showcases the most talented emerging filmmakers from around the world, including Ritu Sarin and Tenzing Sonam (India), Sarah Watt (Australia), Julia Solomonoff (Argentina), Perry Ogden (Ireland) and Antonin Svoboda (Austria).

TIFF 2004 Facts

Total number of films screened: 328

Number of features screened: 253

Number of shorts screened: 75

Number of world premieres: 99

Number of international premieres: 26

Number of North American premieres: 81

Percentage of feature films that are world, international, or North American premieres: 81 percent

Number of features screened in a language other than English: 148 (58 percent of total features screened)

Number of submissions: 3321
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Title Annotation:Canada Shows its Love for Film Fests
Author:Barnes, Diane L.W.
Publication:Video Age International
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Sep 1, 2005
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