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WATCHING AND WAITING AT THE TORONTO FILM FEST

I've never felt more like a peasant than when I took a day trip Saturday to the 24th Annual Toronto International Film Festival, a nine-day gala featuring the world premieres of a variety of movies.

But let me tell you, being one of the little people isn't so bad, especially if you're at the right place at the right time -- and you have tickets.

Toronto is a gorgeous, incomparable city, the perfect place to have a film festival. During the course of my visit, I caught glimpses of Liev Schrieber ("Sphere") and Jason Lee around the Park Hyatt Hotel. I attended the news conference for the British/Canadian film "Felicia's Journey" and saw its respected director Atom Egoyan (Oscar-nominated for 1997's "The Sweet Hereafter").

Also, I caught the tail end of the "American Beauty" news conference and had the privilege of seeing Kevin Spacey, Peter Gallagher ("sex, lies, & videotape"), Mena Suvari ("American Pie"), and director Sam Mendes (Broadway's "The Blue Room"). Meeting Holly Hunter ("The Piano") and passing by William H. Macy ("Fargo") were also highlights of the day.

The cast of "Mumford" (Loren Dean, Hope Davis, Mary McDonnell and Jason Lee) showed up for its premiere at Roy Thomson Hall along with director Lawrence Kasdan ("The Big Chill"). After securing rush tickets for "Mumford," thanks to my parents, I witnessed my first world premiere from the back row of Roy Thomson Hall. As if the excitement of the festival itself wasn't enough, "Mumford" was the icing on the cake. Writer/director Kasdan, a master of ensemble directing, chose Toronto to showcase his film; perhaps he wanted to re-create the instantaneous success of "The Big Chill," which debuted at the Toronto Film Festival in 1983.

The festival will continue until Saturday and features such movies as "Jakob the Liar" with Robin Williams, "Dogma" with Matt Damon and "The Cider House Rules" with Charlize Theron.

A film festival is the ultimate destination for any person interested in seeing the best of Hollywood and beyond. The Toronto festival is only a 1 1/2 -hour drive from Niagara Falls. It happens every year around this time.

Just a few tips for the would-be festival-goer: Make plans weeks ahead of time and map out your schedule; bring a camera; carry a pen and paper; be prepared to walk and wait, and listen to the natural buzz of information that circulates through the festival.

For more information on the Toronto Film Festival, call 416-968-FILM or visit the Web site at www.bell.ca/film fest.

Dan Zak is a junior at Canisius High School.

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