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TORONTO -- In a bid to build word-of-mouth for its top picks, the Toronto International Film Festival is holding its first-ever advance press screenings in Los Angeles and New York this week.

A festival spokeswoman said Wednesday that the screenings are designed to give U.S. writers a head start reviewing Toronto titles before the festival's official opening Sept. 6.

Films unspooling at the Wilshire Screening Room in Los Angeles this week include Canadian director Richie Mehta's "Amal," a drama set in India that bows next week in Toronto.

"As a producer of a film, you hope that the press and industry will get out to see the film at the festival. That's not always the case, and the fact that Toronto is pro-active and screening 'Amal' ahead of the festival is a good thing," the film's producer David Miller said Wednesday.

Also screening in Los Angeles is Roger Spottiswoode's Rwandan drama "Shake Hands With the Devil," Avi Nesher's "The Secrets," Arthur Dong's "Hollywood Chinese" and Dutch director Tamar van den Dop's "Blind."

Toronto titles screening in New York this week include Nobuhiro Yamashita's "A Gentle Breeze in the Village," Iranian filmmaker Hana Makhmalbaf's "Buddha Collapsed Out of Shame" and Nina Davenport's "Operation Filmmaker."

It is hoped that the U.S. screenings will ease long lines and overflow crowds for press and industry screenings in Toronto.

The Toronto International Film Festival gets under way Sept. 6 with the world premiere of Jeremy Podeswa's "Fugitive Pieces."
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