Toronto's First Night Canadian Film Contenders

The search for a Canadian film to launch the Toronto International Film Festival has produced two candidates with Hollywood stars.

TORONTO -- With speculation already underway on which film will open the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival, the shortlist now features two high profile Canadian titles: Sarah Polley’s Take This Waltz and the Russell Peters-starrer Breakaway from director Robert Lieberman (Mighty Ducks 3).

Both films have a strong Canadian angle and Hollywood star power, virtually assuring them a Roy Thomson Hall berth.

Festival toppers Piers Handling and Cameron Bailey, who will ultimately choose an opener, were not available for comment as they are overseas screening potential TIFF titles.

And a festival spokeswoman said TIFF had no comment on any opening night selection until a formal announcement is made.

But the potential for Polley and cast members Seth Rogen, Sarah Silverman and Michelle Williams to walk down the red carpet in Toronto virtually guarantees maximum media coverage for Take This Waltz on opening night.

Husain Amarshi, president of Mongrel Media, which is distributing Take This Waltz domestically, insisted much depends on talent availability and the timing and positioning of Polley’s film at TIFF helping to generate buzz for an eventual theatrical release and sales into the U.S. and other international territories.

The heavy-hitting Indo-Canadian hockey drama Breakaway offers up its own stars to draw the snappers outside Roy Thomson Hall, including Peters, Rob Lowe, Camilla Belle and Anupam Kher.

Breakaway is also produced by Bollywood star Akshay Kumar and Toronto-based Ajay Vermani, whose son Vinay Virmani stars in the film.

The bigger mystery is whether Bailey and Handling will be political or populist with this year’s openinght night pick.

Breakaway, in being set in and playing to the Indo-Canadian community, ticks off a number of boxes for TIFF as the festival and its main backers, including Telefilm Canada and the federal government, look to draw more Bollywood coin to the Canadian film industry.

Kicking off Toronto would also repay Kumar, who splits his time between India and Canada, for being a pitchman for Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper.

That support has included Kumar last year parading in Mumbai alongside the Canadian leader while holding the 2010 Olympic relay torch, and attending an April 2011 movie premiere in north Toronto as Harper shopped for local Indo-Canadian votes during a federal election campaign.

Breakaway has other TIFF allies in its corner, including Alliance Films, which is to release the movie in theatres here on September 30, and veteran Canadian producers Paul Gross and Don Carmody.

Going against Breakaway as a Toronto curtain-raiser is the memory of another Canadian hockey drama, Michael McGowan’s corny Score: A Hockey Musical, last year underwhelming when it christened the red carpet on opening night for the 2010 Toronto International Film Festival.

Going for Take This Waltz is the Canadian film industry’s long association with actor-turned-director Polley.

Her debut feature Away From Her made a splash at Toronto’s 2006 edition ahead of earning two Oscar nominations.

Take This Waltz also received early script financing from Astral Media, the long-time sponsor of TIFF's first night party at Roy Thomson Hall.

Toronto could still choose a foreign film to open its 2011 edition, though the festival traditionally opens with a Canadian film.

The opening night Canadian flag-waving is traditionally a prelude to a four-day opening weekend packed full of buzz-worthy Hollywood and other foreign acquisition titles.