TORONTO (Reuters) - World premieres by directors Robert Redford and Emilio Estevez are among the highlights of this year's Toronto International Film Festival, which will feature a slimmer lineup of movies than in years past.
The 35th edition will screen about 290 films, below the typical roster of around 350 titles, the festival's CEO and director, Piers Handling, said on Tuesday. There were 312 films in 2009, a year when the independent film industry was wracked by the recession.
The downturn led to a dearth of distribution deals last year, and industry watchers are looking for signs that the business is now on the mend.
Handling said he's already seen an upturn in film funding.
"It's back to where it was two years ago," he said following a press conference where he and co-director Cameron Bailey unveiled partial list of 50 films, half of which will make their world premieres in Toronto.
Launched in 1976, TIFF now ranks with festivals such as Cannes and Sundance, and serves as a landing point for international films seeking North American exposure and distribution. It also has a strong record of unearthing films that go on to success at the Academy Awards.
The festival will screen films starring Nicole Kidman, Ewan McGregor, Paul Giamatti, Robert DeNiro and others. Even though the lineup is a little smaller than last year's, it will run for 11 days when it opens September 9, one more than usual.
"This will give the audience a chance to find a hidden gem they may have missed," said Bailey.
In the past, "hidden gems" such as "Slumdog Millionaire," "The Hurt Locker" and "Crash" gone on to win glory at the Academy Awards.
Gala premieres this year will include Redford's "The Conspirator," which revolves around the assassination of Abraham Lincoln; George Hickenlooper's "Casino Jack," which stars Kevin Spacey as convicted Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff; and Estevez's "The Way," starring the director's father Martin Sheen.
Among Canadian offerings, the festival will raise its curtain with "Score: A Hockey Musical," and will also screen Richard J. Lewis's hotly anticipated "Barney's Version," which stars Giamatti and Dustin Hoffman in an adaptation of the Mordecai Richler novel.
The event typically draws a flock of film stars and directors to Toronto, as well as more than 1,000 accredited media people, and innumerable film executives and representatives.
The festival will unveil the rest of the lineup next month, Handling said.
Reporting by Cameron French; Editing by Frank McGurty