Scenes from the lives of two filmmakers:
It's 1982. Zoom in with your mind's camera. That's right, make the shot tight, tight enough to get the wry expression on Lawrence Kasdan's face, of a sort Mark Twain once described as "the calm confidence of a Christian with four aces." That's because he was about to present to the Toronto Film Festival (and then the world) a movie that so scared Hollywood's moneybags that, after being turned down everywhere else, he wound up getting the wherewithal to make it from Johnny Carson, no less.
Move the camera around the room. Get a young and impossibly lovely Glenn Close -- who played onscreen for the first time a young woman her own age. Find Jobeth Williams and Kevin Kline, happy to be there in support of Kasdan.
Intercut this sequence with long lines at the box office a few months later when "The Big Chill" finally opens and proves to be a generational touchstone as well as a smash hit. Find footage of people buying the bejabbers out of the soundtrack full of Motown evergreens.
It's 1994. Medium shot. Don't get too close -- you might spook the filmmaker. It's Woody Allen, not long after Mia Farrow hit the ceiling over Soon-Yi and his personal reputation hit bottom. He spends a lot of time looking so harried and depressed that, to steal a gag much loved by Donald Barthelme, you'd have to tie a pork chop around his neck to get the dog to play with him. He needs the most receptive, film-loving audience possible for his first post-Soon Yi film, "Bullets Over Broadway."
He gets it at the Toronto Film Festival, as did Lawrence Kasdan 12 years earlier, as filmmakers always have in the festival's 24 years of existence. That's why a grateful Kasdan and Allen -- among many others -- will premiere their new films at this year's festival. It begins nine days of festivities Thursday.
It has long since become the biggest and best attended festival on the North American continent. Get this list:
Currently scheduled attendees this year --
Actors -- Susan Sarandon, Robin Williams, Bruce Willis, Elton John, Jewel, Sean Penn, Denzel Washington, Kevin Spacey, Danny DeVito, Annette Bening, Jeff Daniels, Liv Tyler, Ralph Fiennes, Julianne Moore, Harry Connick Jr., William Hurt, Anna Paquin, Natalie Portman, Ethan Hawke, Woody Harrelson, Ben Stiller, Brooke Shields, Claudia Schiffer, Sigourney Weaver and Ed Harris.
Directors -- Lawrence Kasdan, Paul Schrader, Wes Craven, Atom Egoyan, James Toback, Alan Rudolph, Steven Soderbergh, Mike Figgis, Kevin Smith, Michael Apted.
Some, of course, may get an incapacitating hangnail before then; or they may opt, instead, for staying home with TV dinners and a full diet of "Jeopardy" and Judge Judy. Even as we speak, most, if not all, are clearing the decks at the last possible minute for a brief jaunt to "Hollywood North."
After they get there, all might well be glimpsed by fame hunters waiting for an elevator or spooning a creme brulee or buying a tube of Ben Gay at the local apothecary. Whether such flashes of celebrity on the hoof provide glimpses of Truth is up to each individual. (Sometimes they indeed are. At one Toronto Festival I saw ex-Yippie and Woodstock-era radical Abbie Hoffman, mere months before his suicide, trudging down a dark hotel hallway with a suitcase as heavy as Willy Loman's while once again wearing his American flag shirt. A few hours later he would make a tragic appearance in that shirt at a Toronto nightclub as a "stand-up comic.")
A full list of the important films and filmmakers and actors fully launched by the film-crazy crowds, film-avid critics and screening-scrounging industrialists in attendance would take more space than any intelligent newspaper could make available.
A very skimpy list: Barbet Schroeder's "Reversal of Fortune" for which Jeremy Irons won an Oscar; Jane Campion's "The Piano" for which both Holly Hunter and Anna Paquin won Oscars; Quentin Tarantino's "Reservoir Dogs," which served notice on a jam-packed screening room that something new, exciting and very unwholesome had slouched toward Canada to be born; Michael Moore's outraged agitprop documentary "Roger and Me;" Giuseppe Tornatore's Oscar-winning "Cinema Paradiso;" Paul Thomas Anderson's remembrance of porn past "Boogie Nights;" Whit Stillman's ode to post-debutante smart alecks "Metropolitan;" the Coen Brothers' incomparably surreal Hollywood film "Barton Fink;" Nancy Savoca's "Household Saints."
It's the place Robert Redford chose to present "A River Runs Through It." It's the place that first showed Nikita Mikhalkov's sublime film "Dark Eyes" to a North American audience.
Yes, it's true that many of Toronto's biggest launches first found ecstatic applause at other film festivals -- most notably Cannes and Sundance. But the Toronto Film Festival has been -- you should pardon the expression -- the buzz capital of the film universe for at least 15 years, probably 20.
Where else, beginning Thursday, will you see the premieres of films featuring Jewel on horseback during the Civil War? Or Meryl Streep teaching music in a film by Wes Craven ("Scream," "Nightmare on Elm Street")? Or Matt Damon, Ben Affleck and Linda Fiorentino so potentially controversial to Catholics that the Brothers Weinstein (Harvey and Bob) took it out of their Miramax lineup and created a special company for it, lest parent company Disney incur too much back-flak?
The town will be turned upside down for nine days, as residents and visitors line up everywhere seeing and talking about films. Some of those they'll be talking about:
"Felicia's Journey" -- The new film by Atom Egoyan, whose last film, "The Sweet Hereafter," was a haunting story about guilt and loss based on Russell Banks' novel. In his new thriller, Bob Hoskins shelters a pregnant Irish girl.
"Mumford" -- The new film by Lawrence Kasdan. Loren Dean is a psychologist in a strange small town inhabited by Alfre Woodard, Ted Danson, Mary McDonell, Martin Short and Robert Stack.
"Jakob the Liar" -- By Peter Lassovitz. Robin Williams smiles through the Holocaust without help from Roberto Benigni.
"Anywhere But Here" -- The new film by Wayne Wang ("Smoke," "Blue in the Face," "The Joy Luck Club") from a Mona Simpson novel about mother/daughter angst. Starring Susan Sarandon, Natalie Portman and Bonnie Bedelia.
"Ride with the Devil" -- Yes, Jewel on horseback in new Civil War drama by Ang Lee ("Sense and Sensibility," "The Ice Storm") starring Skeet Ulrich, Tobey Maguire, and Simon Baker.
"Dogma" -- The long-awaited and controversial fantasy about Catholicism in New Jersey by young practicing Catholic director Kevin Smith ("Clerks," "Mallrats," "Chasing Amy") starring Matt Damon, Ben Affleck and Linda Fiorentino.
"The Limey" -- New thriller by Steven Soderbergh ("Out of Sight," "sex, lies and videotape") starring Terence Stamp reprising his role in Mike Leigh's "Poor Cow" with Peter Fonda as an unusually unctuous bad guy and Leslie Anne Warren.
"Happy, Texas" -- Mark Illsley Sundance favorite about two crooks mistaken for gay operators of kiddie beauty pageants.
"American Beauty" -- New film by Sam Mendes sometimes thought of as "Happiness Meets The Ice Storm" about suburban angst, family style, with lots of black humor mixed in. Starring Kevin Spacey and Annette Bening (whose major career was launched at the Toronto Festival's showing of Stephn Frears' "The Grifters"). Mendes, among other things, directed the much-noticed British and Broadway production of "The Blue Room" starring Nicole Kidman.
"Breakfast of Champions" -- Directed by Alan Rudolph from the novel by Kurt Vonnegut and starring Bruce Willis and Nick Nolte.
"The Hurricane" -- Norman Jewison's film about unjustly imprisoned boxer Ruben "Hurricane" Carter starring Denzel Washington as Carter, and Liev Schrieber. Washington will also be seen this fall in "The Bone Collector."
"Snow Falling on Cedars" -- Directed by Scott Hicks' whose previous film "Shine" took the world by storm and won Geoffrey Rush an Oscar. Based on the best-selling novel by David Guterson about love and society in the mid-'50s in the Pacific Northwest. Starring Ethan Hawke, Sam Shepard, and James Cromwell.
"Forever Mine" -- New melodrama by Paul Schrader ("Hard Core," "Blue Collar", "Mishima," writer of "Taxi Driver").
"Women Talking Dirty" -- Comedy by Coky Giedroyc from book by Isla Dewar starring Helena Bonham Carter and featuring music by Elton John.
In addition to all the movies that will eventually wend their way into theaters around the country, the festival features, among other unique attractions, a series called "Dialogue: Talking with Pictures" in which filmmakers introduce the work of filmmakers they admire, often extravagantly. Where else will you see Lawrence Kasdan present Kurosawa's "Yojimbo," George Romero ("Night of the Living Dead") introduce Powell and Pressburger's "Tales of Hoffman" and enfant terrible Harmony Korine (screenwriter of the notorious "Kids") attempt to discuss his relationship with Rainer Werner Fassbinder's "Why Does Herr R. Run Amok?"
As always, the 319 films in this year's festival will travel from the sublime to the ridiculous and cover all of the mesas, arroyos, deserts, mountains and woodlands in between.
Devoted film travelers, seasoned and otherwise, wouldn't have it any other way.