Celebrity gridlock hits TIFF

Attendees juggle competing premieres, benefits and parties

Prepare for celebrity gridlock.

As the 35th Toronto International Film Festival plunges into its hectic opening weekend, festival-goers face a daunting obstacle course of high-profile film premieres and equally star-studded parties -- many competing head-to-head.

"It's a complex dance," admitted festival co-director Cameron Bailey, who has the daunting task of seeing that dozens of competing distributors and producers are all happy with their slots.

Toss in all the attendant parties -- pre-screening cocktail receptions, post-screening blow-outs -- and the dance becomes even more frenetic.

"You go to one movie and before and after, you hit the parties. But you stay very briefly at them and keep moving," said one exec, handing out party-hopping advice.

As the sun sets today, Robert Redford will be walking the red carpet at Roy Thomson Hall, where his latest film "The Conspirator," a post-Civil War courtroom drama, is to have its world premiere, and just three hours later Ben Affleck will walk the same walk along with the cast of his Boston-based crime tale, "The Town."

Meanwhile, just a few blocks away, a bevy of British actresses, including Sally Hawkins and Miranda Richardson, expect to be taking bows for their performances as factory workers in "Made in Dagenham," and then the Elgin Theater will be turned over to Ewan McGregor and Christopher Plummer who are teaming up for a father-and-son act in "Beginners."

Elsewhere around town, the beat will be equally relentess: Fox Searchlight will be screening Mark Romanek's "Never Let Me Go" ahead of Focus' launch of "It's Kind of a Funny Story," directed by Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden.

The pace doesn't slow down on Sunday evening, either: Clint Eastwood will unveil his newest film, "Hereafter," starring Matt Damon; Woody Allen is expected to be on hand for the North American premiere of "You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger"; Danny Boyle tosses his "127 Hours" into the mix; and TIFF regular producer Robert Lantos will present "Barney's Version," starring Paul Giamatti and Dustin Hoffman, at a Thomson Hall gala.

The fest's first weekend may be "primetime," as Bailey puts it, but there are also trade-offs involved.

"If you ask for positioning on the first weekend, you're up against other films," he said.

Beforehand, Bailey consults widely with producers and distributors about their needs in Toronto, often advising they may do better screening films to both the public and press/industry audiences later in the festival.

But many remain intent on the first weekend with one goal: "People are looking to capture eyeballs."

For films coming into Toronto with U.S. distribution, it's about seizing the attention, and pens, of the assembled media.

For films without U.S. distribution, it's about ensuring acquisition titles are not lined up against each other, wherever possible, because that only complicates efforts to corral film buyers into theaters.

And to raise the profiles of their movies even further, distribs and producers then pile on the receptions and dinners and parties.

Sales and distribution company IM Global will issue a wake-up call, of sorts, on Saturday when it hosts a brunch to celebrate its festival entries, "Everything Must Go," "Banraku," "Insidious" and "Vanishing on 7th Steet." Saturday evening, Sony Pictures Classics and Fox Searchlight will throw competing fetes for their respective features. On Sunday, the Creative Coalition will raise a glass to toast "Casino Jack," its star Kevin Spacey and its director George Hickenlooper.

During the course of the weekend, they'll be gatherings for everything from from Philip Seymour Hoffman's directorial debut "Jack Goes Boating" and Guillem Morales' Spanish thriller "Julia's Eyes" to Davis Guggenheim's doc "Waiting for Superman" and Stephen Frears' romantic comedy "Tamara Drewe."

One manager, who'll have finished his client duties by Saturday night, couldn't quite get his head around all the competing invites. "I haven't decided what I'm going to do. There's too many!," he exclaimed.

And, oh yeah, there's also the charity events.

Damon will host OneXOne's annual charity event, which John Legend and Lennox Lewis are expected to attend, with proceeds benefitting the health and welfare of the world's children.

AmfAR, the Foundation for AIDS Research, is partnering with Dignitas Interational for the black-tie gala, Cinema Against AIDS Toronto, with Linda Evangelista, Emilio Estevez and Martin Sheen on board as the evening's chairs.

If the party choices are dizzying, one ICM agent might have the right approach. "You go to one, maybe two, and stay there. No need to spread yourself too thin," he advised, cautioning, "But just make sure you pick the right one."

Borys Kit contributed to this report.
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