If you want your movie to stand out from the nearly 400 titles vying for attention at the 11-day Toronto International Film Festival, which opens Thursday, it can’t hurt to have a huge sign flash on-screen that declares, “Canadians are heroes.”
Perhaps Ben Affleck didn’t intend to cater to the hometown crowd when he shot that scene for Argo, the actor’s third directorial effort. After all, the plot does revolve around the true story of how Hollywood had a starring role in covertly rescuing six U.S. diplomats who took refuge at the Canadian ambassador’s residence during the 1979-1981 Iran hostage crisis.
But if it gets a rise out of the nearly 300,000 fans who will jam North America’s biggest celebration of cinema, he won’t complain.
“Yes, I openly thank Canada,” says Affleck, who also takes the lead as the CIA operative behind the caper that passed off the diplomats as a fake film crew scouting desert locales for a Star Wars rip-off. “It is naked pandering.”
Another smart move: casting a popular Ontario native —Victor Garber, father to Affleck’s wife, Jennifer Garner, on TV’s Alias— as the country’s then-ambassador, Ken Taylor.
Any trick is fair play, considering he’s far from the only brand-name director with Oscar cred (he and Matt Damon took original-screenplay honors for co-writing 1997’s Good Will Hunting) who hopes to set off the buzz alarm at an event that just happens to coincide with the start of the awards season. Consider that six out of the seven past best-picture winners (save for 2006’s The Departed) flourished in the festival spotlight first.
Given the pedigree of the talent coming to town, expectations are decidedly high for the 37th edition of TIFF, the fest’s Twitter-friendly acronym.
This year’s crop of directors is a distinctly impressive if varied bunch. There are revered stalwarts such as Terrence Malick, the elusive auteur who may or may not appear on behalf of To the Wonder, a meditation on love. Relative newcomers, including Lee Daniels, the taboo-breaker behind Precious, who brings The Paperboy, a swampy potboiler. And internationally acclaimed artistes such as Michael Haneke, the German-born Austrian envelope-pusher whose Amour— a stark portrait of aging — was already the toast of Cannes in May.
Then there are old hands such as Robert Redford, who won his lone Oscar when he directed 1980’s Ordinary People. His more recent efforts behind the camera quickly faded from view. But the trailer for The Company You Keep, a political thriller in which he stars as a former ’60s radical whose cover is blown, shows signs of a return to form.
“I don’t know if we have ever had a group quite as strong in reputation,” festival co-director Cameron Bailey says.
There might be a practical reason for their attendance, however. Given summer’s disturbing drop in movie attendance, studios are more determined than ever to drum up excitement.
And Toronto is the perfect place to do it…
Read more: USA Today