Pics, politics spice up Toronto

'Creation' bows while organizers contend with controversy

TORONTO -- The Toronto International Film Festival opened Thursday night with a gala world premiere of the Charles Darwin romancer "Creation," while away from the red carpet, politics dominated the buzz.

Director Jon Amiel and co-leads Paul Bettany and wife Jennifer Connelly strode down the new and longer red carpet from Metro Square to Roy Thomson Hall, waving to gushing fans and paparazzi, as they hyped the first-ever British picture to open Toronto.

They won't be alone this week. "Creation" is among a legion of indie films financed before the market meltdown 18 months ago and still in search of U.S. distribution as nervous film buyers gather in Toronto. In all, 100 of the world, international or North American premieres to unspool in Toronto over the next 10 days have no U.S. distribution.

George Clooney, in town for two premieres of his latest films, "The Men Who Stare At Goats" and Jason Reitman's "Up InThe Air," Oprah Winfrey, Drew Barrymore, Penelope Cruz and Matt Damon are just a few of A-list stars in Toronto.

Meanwhile, organizers were dealing with a number of political dustups. They caused a furor among Canadian producers by deciding that no local film was up to opening the Toronto festival on Thursday night, as has long been the tradition here.

"This speaks to the exceptional quality of the opening-night film, and some incredible performances, " said Ian Greenberg, CEO of Astral Media, who sponsored TIFF's opening night.

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Toronto organizers were hoping that opening with "Creation" would provide the right emotional and intellectual start to a festival looking to entice film market buyers with more commercial titles.

"It's a deep, very rich and diverse festival," Piers Handling, director of the Toronto film festival, said as the 34th edition got underway.

Elsewhere, there was no end in sight to the fracas over the fest's Tel Aviv spotlight, which will showcase 10 Israeli films and no Palestinian titles starting Sunday night.

And festival execs, well aware that the "Creation" will be a red flag to religious fundamentalists, know they face more controversy today, when Danish director Lars von Trier will appear via live video to talk about his bloody and erotic film "Antichrist," which drew boos, gasps and brave applause when it bowed in Cannes.

"The onus is on us to show films that tackle real issues. If we encourage debate along the way, then we've fulfilled our role," TIFF's Handling said.

Also due in from Venice with his bull-horn prop is Michael Moore to showcase his latest documentary, "Capitalism: A Love Story."

The Toronto International Film Festival will continue to Sept. 19, when it wraps with another British historical drama, Jean-Marc Vallee's "The Young Victoria."