Stars, politics set to stir up Toronto film festival

Wed Sep 5, 2012 4:12pm EDT
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By Christine Kearney

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A strong film lineup full of politically charged themes and a heavy dose of Hollywood stars have raised high hopes the Toronto International Film Festival, set to open Thursday, will breed Oscar contenders, rapturous audiences and plenty of film deals.

Considered one of the world's top festivals, Toronto serves as a kick-off to Hollywood's awards season, and will screen more than 280 films over 11 days. Stars turning out to showcase or support films including Ben Affleck, Johnny Depp, Ryan Gosling and Kristen Stewart.

The festival has previously unearthed films that go on to success at the Academy Awards, such as "Slumdog Millionaire" and "The King's Speech," which both won best-film Oscars.

"It's going to be one of the strongest years ever, not just for the pictures we are bringing but so many unsold pictures that are there with major directors and major names," said festival regular Michael Barker of Sony Pictures Classics.

"This is a contest where you want people to see your film," he added, noting that festival founded in 1976 had forged a reputation for guaranteeing filmmakers media attention, friendly audiences and quality movies.

Political thriller "Argo," directed and starring Ben Affleck and premiering on Friday, is one of several bigger titles hoping to pave the way for later awards success.

The story, based on how the CIA smuggled six Americans out of Iran under the cover of a Hollywood film production during the 1979 hostage crisis, is one of several politically themed films, said the festival's co-director Cameron Bailey.

"A lot of films are dealing with the intersect of political and social conflict," Bailey said, also citing "The Reluctant Fundamentalist," about a young Asian man coping on Wall Street after the 9/11 attacks, and several documentaries including "Camp 14: Total Control Zone," about a man's escape from a labor camp in North Korea.   Continued...

Ben Affleck in a scene from "Argo". REUTERS/TIFF