August 19, 2008 / 6:56 PM / in 9 years

Toronto film festival promises lighter touch

<p>Brad Pitt in a scene from Joel and Ethan Coen's "Burn After Reading". REUTERS/Focus Features/Handout</p>

TORONTO (Reuters) - The Toronto International Film Festival is promising a lighter touch this year, both thematically and in the number of films presented, with domestic dramas and comedies prominent among the list of 312 features and short films unveiled on Tuesday.

This year’s festival is somewhat smaller than it was last year, when 352 films were shown, many of them political and war-themed.

Organizers also promise a healthy dose of Hollywood star power at the 33rd edition of the festival, with Brad Pitt, Ben Kingsley, Keira Knightly, Jennifer Aniston, and even basketball star LeBron James among the more than 500 stars and special guests expected to attend.

George Clooney was originally expected to attend, but the festival said he would not be coming.

The 10-day festival, which begins on September 4, is seen by many as the kick-off to Oscar season, and ranks with Cannes, Sundance, Venice and Berlin in influence.

Despite showing fewer films in total, the festival will feature 116 world premieres among the 249 full-length features, up from 101 world premieres last year.

All told, films from 64 countries will be screened, with more than 340,000 admissions expected.

Cameron Bailey, who took over as TIFF co-director this year from Noah Cowan, said organizers had deliberately trimmed the number of offerings to make the festival more manageable, and he also acknowledged a shift to more inward-looking films this year.

“(It‘s) movies that are about more the domestic sphere, more about relationships between characters, family relationships, and less about the whole political sweep of what’s going on in the world,” he told Reuters.

GALA HIGHLIGHTS

Among the 20 gala pictures that will highlight the festival are Richard Eyre’s “The Other Man,” which stars Liam Neeson as a man who discovers his wife has been receiving e-mails and mobile messages from an unknown rival, played by Antonio Banderas.

As well, Joel and Ethan Coen, who won the best picture Oscar this year for the TIFF-screened “No Country for Old Men,” will present “Burn After Reading,” starring Hollywood heavyweights Pitt, Clooney and John Malkovich, in a comedy about a former CIA agent whose memoirs fall into the hands of two unscrupulous gym employees.

The festival will open with Canadian Paul Gross’s “Passchendaele,” which tells the tale of two brothers fighting in the disastrous World War One battle in France.

Among documentary entries will be “Religulous,” a tongue-in-cheek look at organized religion by humorist Bill Maher and “Seinfeld” producer Larry Charles, and “At the Edge of the World,” which follows a Canadian environmental activist and his boat in pursuit of Japanese whalers.

While the festival acts for some as a preview of late-season movie releases, the main business for many will be securing distribution rights for their movies.

Reporting by Cameron French; Editing by Peter Galloway

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