Film Scouts Diaries

1997 Toronto Film Festival Diaries
Following the Crowd

by Kathleen Carroll

Toronto, Sept. 15, 1997

With so many tempting films in Toronto - so many places to go and people to see - I kept wishing I could be cloned so I wouldn't miss anything. Since cloning is not yet an option I found myself missing such heavily touted films as David Mamet's "The Spanish Prisoner." "Are you going to the Mamet?," asked Roger Ebert as he automatically waited for me to accompany him to the screening. I sheepishly confessed I was going to the Miramax cocktail party instead and he gave me one of his disapproving, thumbs-down looks.

You see I've learned the secret of covering this festival. Toronto is now so popular you must stand in line just to get into the press screenings. Should you miss the press screening there's nothing left to do but throw yourself at mercy of the publicists who tend to dole out tickets to the public screenings to those journalists they feel can do them the most good. It's all so confusing and frustrating I decided to simply relax and let others decide where I should go.

The very first night I ran into some Canadian friends who whisked me off to the Horseshoe Tavern, a smoke-filled ordinary-looking bar. It was jammed with lucky Torontonians who had gotten the word that the Rolling Stones would be trying out a few numbers for their upcoming tour in this small venue. Sure enough. Within an hour the hope of the Geritol generation - Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Charlie Watts, and Ron Woods - were performing full throttle on the tiny stage, surrounded by hip-swaying fans. Jagger, whom one observer insisted was merely a year younger than her 57-year-old husband, can still do a mean strut. But it was his facial muscles that were getting a real workout as he moved those famous pouting lips. Hearing the Stones in such close quarters was amittedly a thrill.

Adding to my satisfaction was another Mick sighting. The rock star re-surfaced at the Miramax party where he chatted up Helena Bonham Carter, the star of "The Wings of the Dove," an exquisitely made film. Jagger had changed his tune so to speak. As I discovered from bumping into one of the executives of Jagger Productions, his new production company, he's bent on becoming a major player in the movie business.

Given my tendency to follow the crowd I could not resist yet another invitation from Miramax. As you may know, Harvey Weinstein, the company founder, isn't happy unless he can steal the show at every festival. He invited the press to join him and "a big surprise guest" for a brief announcement in a hotel suite. What appeared to be nearly all 600 of the festival's press corps jammed into the suite to hear Weinstein announce that he had acquired "The Big One," the latest documentary by the maverick filmmaker Michael Moore. The deal had reportedly been nailed down in a men's room while the film was being screened. This is what passes for hot news in Toronto.

There was one big star who easily stole Weinstein's thunder. It was Chow Yun Fat, who was in town to promote his first American movie, "The Replacement Killers." At over six feet tall, the handsome actor more than lives up to his description as "Hong Kong's Cary Grant." "I shook his hand," said a Japanese student, still basking in the pleasure of this chance encounter. "He's a real superstar."

The films remain the true stars of Toronto. "L.A.Confidential" won the festival's Media Award, making it the critics' pet. An energetic film noir detailing L.A. police corruption in the '50's, it contains jarring scenes of police brutality that are uncomfortable reminders of today's headline stories about such behavior. "The Hanging Gardens," a poignant, cleverly done Canadian film by 29-year-old Thom Fitzgerald, was another audience favorite. Said Fitzgerald, when it was announced that he won the festival's coveted People's Choice Award, "Forget about 'Seven Years in Tibet.' Ten days in Toronto can change your life." Indeed, Fitzgerald's film was picked up this past week by MGM for over $500,000. In contrast "Seven Days in Tibet," Jean-Jacques Annaud's visually striking adventure saga of the Nazi mountain climber who tutored the Dalai Lama in the ways of world, drew only a lukewarm response from the Toronto crowd.

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