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Boom! Cameron Bailey promises a loud start for TIFF

Joseph Gordon-Leavitt in Looper.

Call it a promise, or maybe a threat, but the declaration is clear: "This is the loudest opening night film we've ever had." The declarer is Cameron Bailey, artistic director of the Toronto International Film Festival which, in typical peekaboo fashion, partly drew back the curtain on its upcoming roster of cinematic goodies. The voluble picture in question is Looper, another genre-bender from director Rian Johnson who, in this outing, combines the time-travel of sci-fi with the big bangs of a gangster flick. "It's huge fun," insists Bailey, before quickly adding, "But a smart action film, too." No doubt.

Indeed, TIFF's new marketing campaign is cut from precisely the same cloth. Featuring come-ons like, "Where Popcorn meets Paté," "Where Profane Meets Profound," "Where OMG Meets WTF," the slogans seem designed to wipe clean any remaining stain of high-brow exclusivity. Yes, prospective ticket-buyers, the fest may start in early September but, hey, it ain't like going back to school.

As for the other galas announced, some intriguing pairings suggest themselves. In keeping with the theme of blue-bloods and glitter, consider this coupling: A Royal Affair, a costumed period piece set in the Danish court of the 18th-century; and Hyde Park on Hudson, where Bill Murray plays FDR entertaining the British King and Queen on the eve of the Second World War. Then there are the star actor-director tandems: Ben Affleck appearing both before and behind the camera in Argo, a thriller arising out of the Iranian hostage crisis; and Robert Redford doing the same in The Company You Keep, about a civil rights lawyer running from his radical past.

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The gala Canadian content comes courtesy of not one but two female directors: Ruba Nadda's Inescapable, an obviously timely drama that sees a father searching for his missing daughter in Damascus; and Deepa Mehta's adaptation of Midnight's Children, the Salman Rushdie novel (still his best) that unfolds in partition-era India. Finally, how's this for a strangely matched set of gala documentaries: Free Angela & All Political Prisoners, a look back at the sixties philosophy prof cum Black Panther cum striking beauty Angela Davis; and Love,Marilyn, another product of the Monroe factory, this one apparently based on a recently discovered cache of "her private writings and musings." Marilyn the closet literateur – who knew?

On more classic terrain, Great Expectations travels again from the page to the screen, as does Anna Karenina. We're in the Special Presentations sector now, where that most supple of contemporary novelists, David Mitchell, gets the adaptive treatment: His Cloud Atlas is so overarching that it took a trio of directors – Tom Tykwer plus the Wachowski siblings, Andy and Lana – to tackle the book. Also noticeable among the announced entries is Terrence Malick who, a mere year after The Tree of Life, returns with To the Wonder – suddenly the guy is prolific.

The partial list goes on, more than 60 in all, but I'm especially attracted to the possibilities in: Dustin Hoffman making his directorial debut with Quartet, starring Maggie Smith; HannahArendt, where Margarethe von Trotta dramatizes the philosopher's life in the wake of her seminal analysis of the Eichmann trial; Capital, from the formidable Costa-Gavras still going strong at 79; and, not least, A Liar's Autobiography – The Untrue Story of Monty Python'sGraham Chapman, an animated take on the late (and presumably inanimate) physician and co-author of the Parrot Sketch.

I neglected to mention another documentary with some female star power: Venus & Serena, a year in the tennis life of the long-suffering and sometimes insufferable Williams sisters. Expect Serena, in particular, to fit right in with the advertised mood of this year's festival. She plays loud. But, you know, smart, too.

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Film critic

Rick Groen is a film critic for The Globe and Mail. More


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