Pittsburgh plays role at Toronto Film Festival


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The start of the festival was still days away and, already, a line was forming.

"Welcome to the Virtual Waiting Room," the computer screen announced to an untold number of movie lovers hoping to buy single tickets for the Toronto International Film Festival. They went on sale at 10 a.m. Sunday and many users probably found the same message: "The overwhelming demand to purchase tickets has placed your request in a queue."

It then counted down, in thousands or hundreds of seconds for most, access to the TIFF site so people could see if any tickets remained for the world premieres of "The Perks of Being a Wallflower" or "Ginger & Rosa" starring Elle Fanning, Annette Bening and Christina Hendricks, or scores of other titles.

No to the first and yes to the second although hopefuls could check back on the day of the showing or try for a rush ticket released 10 minutes before the start of the movie (and vow to buy a package next year granting better access).

With 289 features -- and 83 shorts -- playing at the 37th annual Toronto festival opening on Thursday, there will be no shortage of movies to see if first choices are sold out. Those numbers represent an increase from last year when it was all about George, Brad and Madonna, not to mention a valentine to the cinema called "The Artist."

This year, the list of actors will be equally impressive, with such notables as Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Bill Murray, Ryan Gosling, Keira Knightley, Marion Cotillard, Emma Watson and 200 others scheduled to attend.

Yes, that sound you hear is of the awards-season machinery coming back to life thanks to festivals in Venice, Italy; Telluride, Colo.; and Toronto, which will conclude Sept. 16.

Helping to grease it are movies such as "The Master" with Philip Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix, "Argo" directed by and starring Ben Affleck, "Hyde Park on Hudson" with Mr. Murray and Laura Linney, and "The Impossible" with Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor, all scheduled to play in Toronto.

Some movies, such as "Amour" about an elderly couple struggling with the wife's declining health, already premiered to accolades at the Cannes Film Festival. But 93 percent of the feature-length films at Toronto will be world, international or North American premieres.

The annual event opens Thursday with "Looper," a time-traveling thriller starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a hitman assigned to kill his future self, who is portrayed by Bruce Willis.

Also on Thursday, at another venue, Jason Reitman and an all-star cast will do a live table read of Alan Ball's screenplay for "American Beauty." It's part of Mr. Reitman's "Live Read" series in which contemporary actors read classic (1999 in this case) movie scripts.

"We're excited to offer festival audiences the opportunity to watch the creative process unfold in front of their eyes," Cameron Bailey, artistic director of the festival, said in a press release announcing the event.

Mr. Reitman ("Juno," "Up in the Air") and his director-producer father, Ivan Reitman, are celebrated in Toronto where Reitman Square houses the festival's home called TIFF Bell Lightbox, but there will be a few Pittsburgh connections, too.

"Perks" is Pittsburgh-born and bred. Upper St. Clair native Stephen Chbosky penned the novel and wrote and directed the movie, starring Logan Lerman, Ms. Watson, Ezra Miller and others, in Pittsburgh in spring and summer 2011.

Dave Karger of Entertainment Weekly called Mr. Chbosky one of the filmmakers expected to make a splash in Toronto and during awards season with his bittersweet high school drama. He suggests the adaptation "could very well end up becoming this generation's 'The Breakfast Club.' "

It is scheduled to open in Pittsburgh on Sept. 28, a week earlier than announced. Mr. Chbosky's affection for his characters is evident in the story of a high school freshman who is befriended by two sophisticated step-siblings.

Robert Redford's "The Company You Keep" will have its North American premiere at TIFF. It's a political thriller about an aggressive young journalist, played by Shia LaBeouf, who stumbles upon the story of his career when he uncovers the identity of a wanted ex-radical (Mr. Redford) who has been underground for five decades.

In the adaptation of Neil Gordon's novel, Mr. Redford's character is a widowed father and his daughter is played by songbird extraordinaire Jackie Evancho from Richland. The cast also includes such heavyweights as Susan Sarandon, Terrence Howard, Anna Kendrick, Stanley Tucci, Chris Cooper and Nick Nolte.

Some celebrities will appear at the festival to support a movie, as with Johnny Depp and Natalie Maines. Another heavyweight, Peter Jackson, will participate in a news conference at the festival via Skype. They are backing "West of Memphis," an investigative documentary promising new evidence surrounding the arrest and conviction of three then-teens for the 1993 murder of three 8-year-old boys. The filmmakers want to exonerate Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley Jr. and provide some sort of closure to the families of the murdered children.

TIFF also will screen "The Central Park Five," which promises to tell the story of how five black and Latino teenagers were wrongly convicted of raping the Central Park jogger and how a rush to judgment by the police, media clamoring for sensational stories, and an outraged public contributed to that miscarriage of justice.

The jogger was Trisha Meili, a graduate of Upper St. Clair High School who was 28 when savagely attacked in 1989 and not expected to survive. She chronicled her story in a moving 2003 book, "I Am The Central Park Jogger: A Story of Hope and Possibility."

Documentaries are just one of the 15 programs that make up the festival mosaic with gala presentations featuring formal red carpets, midnight screenings of action, horror, shock and fantasy, contemporary world cinema, and future projections with quirky installations.

Among them will be "Making Chinatown" in which video artist Ming Wong re-creates selected scenes from Roman Polanski's "Chinatown," and "Springtime," a fixed view of Dutch artist Jeroen Eisinga as he is slowly enveloped by 250,000 bees. Yes, on purpose.

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Movie editor Barbara Vancheri: bvancheri@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1632. Read her blog: www.post-gazette.com/madaboutmovies. First Published September 5, 2012 4:00 AM


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