Francis Ford Coppola at his press conference for the film Twixt at the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival.
Francis Ford Coppola at his press conference for the film Twixt at the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival. Naomi Hockins

Toronto Film Festival wrap-up

TALK about bringing an on-screen character to life. Watching films at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) can be a surreal experience when there's a chance you'll walk out of the theatre and into the person you've just watched on-screen.

Without the opportunity though, I'd never have guessed Keira Knightley would be taller than Viggo Mortenson (I'll admit I didn't see her heels), and I can confirm Nic Cage has plugs (although it was a bigger surprise to discover he is strongly anti-gun).

George Clooney seems to be just as charming in the flesh, while Francis Ford Coppola is an engagingly, lively 72-year-old with a youthful enthusiasm for his craft.

After 36 years, TIFF appears to have found its place on the international film festival circuit. It features a fair mix of proudly Canadian-made, blockbuster and independent films from all over the world. It's not too avant-garde, higher art, commercial or industry-driven - it may just have the festival mix right.

It seems to be comfortable with what it is and offers, and the public and film industry professionals also seem to agree. With such a huge event, it is nice to be in competent, respectable and knowledgeable hands.

Of course, being on the border with the US would help attract the big names.

Speaking of which, TIFF has found particular success in the recent, financially-stressful times - like Australia, Canada has weathered the global crisis well, which gave them an advantage when it came to attracting a supportive public, and international media and stars.

The clinking of champagne glasses echoed each night as stars and industry big-wigs schmoozed at gala parties - from the Weinsteins to directors Joel Schumacher and Alexander Payne. 

Company reps scrambled to see what promising films they could purchase for distribution, and in the end 33 independent efforts made the cut, including Aussie film The Hunter.

Three hundred and thirty-six films from 65 countries were shown on 33 screens over the 11 days of this year's festival. The films ranged from drama to comedy, from low to high budget and with or without known actors. I primarily stuck to better-known films with a likelihood of opening in Oz, as well as those from there.

At the top of my list are two George Clooney flicks (big political thriller The Ides of March with a powerhouse cast including Ryan Gosling, and the wonderfully warm and funny The Descendants), Jeff Who Lives at Home (the lovely, funny story of a man who believes in "signs," starring How I Met Your Mother's Jason Segal, The Hangover's Ed Helms and Susan Sarandon) Francis Ford Coppola's latest Twixt (mysterious and experimental, it's not for everyone but I loved this quirky, silly, twisted and funny tale with Val Kilmer as a "bargain-basement Stephen King")  and Rampart (Woody Harrelson is already getting Oscar buzz for his hardened, bigoted cop as the lead).

Lots of buzz surrounded The Artist (a silent film that's already garnered many awards), The Lady (Luc Besson's latest, based on the true story of Burmese political prisoner Aung San Suu Kyi), Drive (with Ryan Gosling as "Driver," this indie action flick radiates cool), A Dangerous Method (David Cronenberg's most commercially-friendly flick to date, with Viggo Mortensen and Michael Fassbender as Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung respectively), although I lucked-out on those.

And I have to say, I was proud to be an Aussie from the few I saw - The Hunter with Willem Defoe and Sam Neill was enchanting and atmospheric, and the beautifully-shot The Tall Man handled some serious subject matter in the form of Palm Island riots and race relations in Australia).

The festival is the talk of the town when it arrives each year, and Torontonians support it in droves. Most are happy to dig deep into their pockets to help generate plenty of business, with the added bonus of satisfying their interest and excitement.

At $19.69 a pop for each regular ticket (not including taxes, but packages were also available), that is dedication to the local silver screen.

Also, the Toronto audience seems to have frighteningly good taste - the People's Choice Award (which this year was won by Lebanese film Where Do We Go Now?) has been given to The King's Speech, Slumdog Millionaire and American Beauty. The film that launched Geoffrey Rush's career, Shine, also won in 1996.

Each year avid fans wait in the cool autumn nights to greet or get a glimpse of their favourite stars on the red carpet. For example, one woman was so excited this year to have her hand signed by her hero Clooney, she took straight off to a tattoo parlour where she had it inked as a permanent reminder. Toronto may be a film-making town but there's no other event like this one.

This year, headliner films included The Ides of March, Moneyball, A Dangerous Method, 50/50, Drive, The Descendants, Machine Gun Preacher. Six of TIFF's 268 feature films were Australian - The Eye of the Storm, Burning Man, The Hunter, Snowtown, The Tall Man and Sleeping Beauty.

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