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Toronto film festival to probe global conflicts and mortality

Gordon-Levitt in “Looper.”

TORONTO: North America’s largest film festival opens Thursday in Toronto with a wide-ranging trove of new movies and a spotlight on global conflicts and baby boomers’ mortality.

“It’s our most diverse slate ever, with 72 countries represented,” Toronto International Film Festival co-director Cameron Bailey told AFP. “There’s a lot of new filmmakers presenting this year too,” as well as 146 world premieres.

In an increasingly competitive circuit, film festivals are jostling to distinguish themselves from others, touting more and more firsts.

This year Toronto premieres include “Argo,” which looks back at the storming of the U.S. embassy in Tehran in 1979, and “English Vinglish,” which marks the comeback of India’s biggest female star, Sridevi.

It will also include the family drama “Silver Linings Playbook,” from “The Fighter” director David Russell, starring Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro, as well as “Caught in the Web,” a cyber-bullying drama by Chen Kaige.

Bailey noted that many filmmakers this year have focused their lenses on recent unrest in Sri Lanka, the Middle East and elsewhere.

The Toronto film festival, also for the first time, has scheduled talks after each screening with experts, such as political scientist Janice Stein and former Canadian opposition leader Michael Ignatieff.

“We’ve seen these kinds of subjects treated in films before,” Bailey said, “but we’re hoping to go beyond the initial description of a conflict and offer deeper insights into what is going on.”

He pointed to a documentary portrait of a man who escapes a North Korean labor camp in “Camp 14 – Total Control Zone,” the quest for U.N. recognition of Palestine in “State 194,” and candid interviews with former heads of Israel’s intelligence and security agency Shin Bet in “The Gatekeepers.”

If global conflicts seem too heavy to go with popcorn and soda, there is also an increasing number of films about ageing and death, largely attributable to baby boomers growing older and “facing their own mortality,” Bailey said.

In this category, Dustin Hoffman will be in town for the unveiling of his new film “Quartet,” about a string quartet’s future hanging in the balance after a member is diagnosed with a life threatening illness.

The closing night film, “Song For Marion,” also touches on the end of life, casting Vanessa Redgrave in the role of a curmudgeonly retiree’s beloved wife who falls ill.

The smash success of music documentaries – following last year’s focus on U2, Pearl Jam and Neil Young – has spawned a similar series this year.

“Artifact” follows Jared Leto and his band Thirty Seconds to Mars as they battle their record label.

“Reincarnated” follows rapper Snoop Lion – nee “Snoop Dogg” – as he comes to embrace reggae. A new Spike Lee film looks at the making of Michael Jackson’s Bad album 25 years on, in “Bad 25.”

The festival opens Thursday evening with the futuristic time-bending action thriller “Looper,” starring Bruce Willis, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Emily Blunt. It runs through September 16, during which time it will showcase 289 feature films and 83 shorts.

It is the biggest in North America and has traditionally been a key event for Oscar-conscious studios.

The movie industry is still “clawing its way back” from the 2008 recession, which saw a significant drop-off in the buying of film distribution rights at the Toronto film festival. But the festival remains a popular venue.

This year stars including Jackie Chan, Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Bill Murray, Robert Redford, Robert De Niro, Colin Firth, James Franco, Adam Sandler, Salman Rushdie, Will Smith and Johnny Depp are expected to grace the red carpet.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on September 06, 2012, on page 16.

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