Toronto film festival opener flaunts Canadian roots

Wed Jul 14, 2010 3:23pm EDT
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By Cameron French

TORONTO (Reuters) - The Toronto International Film Festival will kick off its 35th edition with "Score: A Hockey Musical," a sports-themed comedy that returns the festival to its tradition of opening with a Canadian-made film.

The film, announced on Wednesday as the opening night gala screening for a festival that serves as the unofficial launch of Oscar awards season, is one of hundreds to be screened at this year. The festival runs September 9-19.

Films that make a splash in Toronto often go on to Oscar success, and the level of deal-making this year will serve as a barometer of the health of the independent film industry.

The selection of "Score" follows criticism last year for the opening-night selection of British film "Creation," a departure from the festival's past practice of opening with a Canadian film.

As if to try to make up for the controversy, "Score" promises to drip with Canadiana. It features cameo appearances by several Canadian celebrities, including the father of hockey great Wayne Gretzky, and focuses on a sport often described as a religion in the northern country.

"'Score: A Hockey Musical' captures key elements of Canadian identity - our passion for our national pastime, our unique musical style and our special brand of humor," festival director Piers Handling said in a statement.

Directed by Canada's Michael McGowan and starring Australian 1980s pop icon Olivia Newton-John, the film tells the story of a teenage hockey phenomenon who goes from obscurity to fame overnight, but soon finds that success comes with a price.

"Score" also stars Stephen McHattie of "Watchmen" fame, along with singer Marc Jordan, and newcomers Noah Reid and Allie MacDonald.

Recent films that received a warm welcome in Toronto before going on to Oscar success include "The Hurt Locker", and "Slumdog Millionaire", which won the best picture Oscar nods in the past two years.

(Reporting by Cameron French; Editing by Frank McGurty)