Hugh Hefner to bring party to Toronto

Festival to show world premiere of Brigitte Berman doc

TORONTO -- Cannes regular Hugh Hefner is bringing his Playboy party to the Toronto International Film Festival.

Hefner said he'll be in Toronto with his "girlfriends" as part of the PR and party parade for the world premiere of "Hugh Hefner: Playboy, Activist and Rebel," by Oscar-winning doc maker Brigitte Berman.

Turns out Hefner broke more than sexual taboos after launching the Playboy magazine in 1953, as he campaigned for civil rights and free speech, and put blacklisted and black American performers on his "Playboy After Dark" and "Playboy's Penthouse" TV shows when they couldn't appear elsewhere on national TV.

"Here's an opportunity to have this other side of me, a more serious one, explored by someone as talented as Brigitte Berman and having it done by a woman and a Canadian with the support of the Canadian government, it's all very complementary," Hefner said.

The Playboy founder said he first met Berman after she won the best feature documentary award at the 1985 Academy Awards for "Artie Shaw: Time Is All You've Got," the Artie Shaw biopic that bowed at the 1985 Toronto festival.

"I'm a big fan of jazz, and I was intrigued by that and discovered she had a second documentary that no one had seen on (1920s jazz musician) Bix Beiderbecke, one of my real iconic heroes when I was a kid," he said.

So Hefner paid for the music clearance on Berman's 1981 doc "Bix: Ain't None of Them Play Like Him Yet," and released the "Bix" film on his Jazz Video label.

Years later, when Berman attended Hefner's 80th birthday celebration at the Playboy Mansion, she persuaded him to allow her to recount Hefner's fierce earlier battles with the U.S. government, the religious right and militant feminists -- with full access to him and his video archives.

"For me, this film has it all -- sex, glamour, politics, romance, tragedy and conflicts -- and many great surprises about a man people think they know, but don't really know," Berman said.

The result is a film bowing in Toronto that captures Hefner breaking the color line in his Playboy clubs and TV shows, funding legal teams to fight anti-abortion laws and campaigning against censorship and limits on sexual freedom.

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The Hefner doc will be eligible for an Academy Award nomination in January 2011 after a festival run and theatrical release stateside, and Berman is hoping to repeat her Oscar success.

"Because TIFF is so well-attended by world press and industry, the reception of a film in Toronto gives it a perfect sendoff into distribution, and expands its profile and builds its potential audience internationally," she added.