Toronto film festival set to kick off Oscar season

Tue Sep 2, 2008 1:18pm EDT
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By Cameron French

TORONTO (Reuters) - The Toronto film festival will provide the unofficial kick start to Oscar season this week, with distributors keen to give an early look at possible awards contenders and perhaps uncover this year's sleeper hit.

The 33rd version of the festival opens on Thursday with the gala presentation of "Passchendaele," Canadian director Paul Gross's take on the catastrophic World War I battle.

While many of the 249 features to be screened were also shown earlier this year at festivals such as Cannes and Venice, Toronto is seen as the key launching point for North American premieres and for films vying for Oscars.

"This is the one film festival that's a grab-bag of movies that the studios consider award-season contenders," said film critic Pete Hammond.

"The mind-set of the industry is that if it plays well in Toronto, that can launch it pretty favorably into the awards season."

This year, the festival will screen 312 features and short films from 64 countries over 10 days, a slightly smaller schedule than last year, but with a more international flavor, particularly from South America.

Often called the "people's festival" because of the relative ease for the public to get tickets, Toronto has no formal competition but awards the "People's Choice" prize, voted on by the film-going public.

Among the 116 world premieres will be Spike Lee's "Miracle at St. Anna" about a group of African-American U.S. soldiers in Italy in World War II, and "The Lucky Ones," about returning Iraq War veterans on a road trip home starring Tim Robbins.   Continued...

<p>Director Spike Lee watches the Los Angeles Lakers play the Boston Celtics in Game 3 of the NBA Finals in Los Angeles, June 10, 2008. REUTERS/Jeff Haynes</p>