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An unexpurgated, year-by-year chronology of fête and gala, mishap and misadventure, stars and stardust: May, 1976: At Cannes, Toronto real-estate lawyer Dusty Cohl and impresario Bill Marshall announce plans for the first Festival of Festivals. Both later claim to have originated the idea. The total budget is $500,000. Marshall announces that Jack Nicholson, Warren Beatty, Julie Christie and Martin Scorsese are expected to attend. October, 1976: Year One. The festival opens at the Ontario Place Cinesphere. Over six days, 127 features are screened, including the opening gala Cousin, cousine, a French comedy. More than 40,000 people attend -- those who don't include no-shows Nicholson, Beatty, Christie and Scorsese. But Jeanne Moreau is there, with her film, Lumière. September, 1977: Year Two. Now competing with Serge Losique's Montreal World Film Festival, the Toronto programmers elevate the star wattage, bringing in Peter Ustinov, Donald Sutherland, Liza Minnelli and Peter O'Toole. 1978: Year Three. The festival reaps a public-relations bonanza in a feud with the Ontario Censor Board over producer Robert Lantos's debut feature, the $1-million In Praise of Older Women. It then stirs up a PR nightmare by issuing 4,000 tickets to a gala screening at the Elgin Theatre, which only seats 1,600 people. Pandemonium breaks out. Fire marshalls are summoned. A second screening is hastily organized at another cinema. Lantos and his entourage arrive, in pouring rain, in a cavalcade of five horse-drawn carriages. Festival parties get rowdier and raunchier, led by rock star Robbie Robertson's penthouse-suite marathon of booze and sex. The closing gala: Midnight Express. 1979: Year Four. One-hundred-thousand patrons turn up to see 150 films, including Best Boy, an American documentary that later won an Academy Award. The first festival trade forum is held, an industry schmoozathon. Hollywood pretty face Lee Majors arrives in town with his post-Farrah-Fawcett squeeze, prima ballerina Karen Kain. The festival screens its first David Cronenberg films -- two early works, Shivers and The Brood -- and its first Norman Jewison film, And Justice for All, with Al Pacino. 1980: Year Five. A major film auteur, France's Jean-Luc Godard, graces the festival for a retrospective of his work. He demands and receives $1,000 (U.S.), in cash. Bette Midler turns up, too, for the closing gala, a film version of her concert Divine Madness. Other celebrities include Theresa Russell, James Coburn and Nicolas Roeg. The festival doubles the size of programmer David Overbey's Critic's Choice selections to 18. 1981: Year Six. The festival scores a coup in screening Jean-Jacques Beineix's Diva, which had bombed in France. But Toronto audiences love it, and Beineix is besieged by distributors seeking rights and groupies seeking sex. The film becomes an art-house classic. The program also features five films by Turkish director Yilmaz Guney, including The Enemy, which is screened over objections of the Turkish government. The Ontario Censor Board continues its snippish habits, restricting Bonnie Sherr Klein's Not a Love Story: A Film about Pornography to a single screening. 1982: Year Seven. Ignored at Cannes, Hugh Hudson's Chariots of Fire wins hearts in Toronto and goes on to nab Best Picture at the Oscars. Festival director Wayne Clarkson spends weeks seeking rights to The Wars, a Robin Phillips adaptation of the Timothy Findley novel for the festival's opening gala. Unsuccessful, he's forced to substitute a weak Australian film, We of the Never Never. He does score works by Fassbinder, Antonioni, Greenaway, Tavernier and Mazursky. The festival stages first of series of gala tributes -- to Martin Scorsese, hosted by American film critics Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert. Major celebs Robert De Niro and Harvey Keitel turn up to help celebrate; they later have to helped to a waiting limo, accompanied by bimbettes. Scorsese spends the night in an after-hours booze can. And aspiring filmmakers Atom Egoyan and Bruce McDonald, whose movies are rejected by festival programmers, hold a public screening on Bloor Street. 1983: Year Eight. The festival snags a landmark Hollywood studio offering, The Big Chill, for the opening gala, spurning the opportunity to have the still unreleased The Wars. Chill represents a kind of American benediction of Toronto as an important film-launch site, marking a turning point in the festival's evolution. The tribute program, again hosted by Siskel-Ebert, honours actor Robert Duvall. Also featured: a retrospectivbe of David Cronenberg films. 1984: Year Nine. Four hundred films are screened, half of them Canadian (thanks to a major retrospective of homegrown filmmaking called Northern Lights). The festival opens with The Bay Boy, starring 17-year-old Kiefer Sutherland. The tribute program honours actor-producer Warren Beatty, flying him in with Diane Keaton from Los Angeles. The cost of the Beatty program alone is $100,000, twice the entire budget of the first festival, and almost bankrupts the organization. It becomes the last of the tributes. Beatty is the quintessential star; wherever he goes, he is surrounded by security. Arthur Penn, Robert Towne and Jack Nicholson help sing his praises. The festival showcases works by five directors with big futures: Jim Jarmusch, the Coen brothers, Stephen Frears, Luc Besson and Canada's own Atom Egoyan. Sally Field turns up to promote Places in the Heart, the film that later won her an Oscar and inspired her classic thank-you line, "You like me, you really like me." 1985: Year 10. Opening-night gala is Joshua Then and Now (starring James Woods, Alan Arkin and Gabrielle Lazure) from the Mordecai Richler novel; with a budget of $11-million, it is then the most expensive film ever produced in Canada. The postscreening party features smoked meat and cheese blintzes. The film did respectable box office in Canada, but swooned in the key market, the United States, crippled by distinct lack of enthusiasm at Twentieth Century Fox, its distributor. But the festival provides a more successful launch pad for Canadian director Sandy Wilson's My American Cousin ($1.2-million). The closing gala is Death of a Salesman. 1986: Year 11. Wayne Clarkson resigns to become head of the Ontario Film Development Corp. He's succeeded, for nine months, by Leonard Schein, who gives way to Helga Stephenson and her chief programmer Piers Handling. Schein's festival opens with Denys Arcand's The Decline of the American Empire, an intellectual comedy that had already scored at both Cannes and in Quebec and later won an Oscar nomination. Two other Canadian films also make an impact: Anne Wheeler's Loyalties and Leon Marr's Dancing in the Dark. Also featured: a retrospective of Latin American cinema, 96 films from 13 countries. Among attending stars is Julie Christie, who issues a broadside against the evils of Hollywoodism. Disaster is narrowly averted when, during a thunderstorm, part of the ceiling collapses during a screening of the German film Now or Never at the New Yorker Theatre. 1987: Year 12. A big year for Canadian cinema, with Patricia Rozema's I've Heard the Mermaids Singing (the opening gala) and Jean-Claude Lauzon's Un zoo la nuit ( Night Zoo). The closing gala is The Princess Bride with Cary Elwes, Robin Wright and Mandy Patinkin. A special double seat had to be created for co-star Andre the Giant. The festival screens six films by Spain's Pedro Almodovar. 1988: Year 13. The festival opens with Cronenberg's Dead Ringers, starring Jeremy Irons and Geneviève Bujold. It closes with The Glass Menagerie, starring Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward. Also featured is Almodovar's Women on the Edge of a Nervous Breakdown. In that year, festival programmer Noah Cowan launches Midnight Madness, a minifestival of genre films. 1989: Year 14. Atom Egoyan watches in horror as reels of his Speaking Parts are screened in the wrong sequence. Michael Moore persuades festival programmers to accept Roger and Me, his documentary about General Motors and Flint, Mich. Its screening ignites a bidding war for distribution rights; the film goes on to gross more than $12-million worldwide. The festival also helps kickstart the career of American director Steven Soderbergh, with a gala screening of sex, lies and videotape; made for $1.2-million, it goes on to gross $25-million in North America. Opening Gala: Norman Jewison's In Country. 1990: Year 15. Clint Eastwood brings White Hunter, Black Heart. Other galas include The Grifters, The Nasty Girl, Cyrano de Bergerac and Reversal of Fortune. Several women directors win audience points -- Cynthia Scott for The Company of Strangers, Jane Campion for Angels at My Table, Ann Hui for Song of the Exile and Agnieszka Holland for Europa, Europa. The latter becomes a festival hit, and parlays its popularity into boffo global box office. 1991: Year 16. The most popular film is The Fisher King with Jeff Bridges and Robin Williams. Fifteen women directors make debuts, including Jodie Foster with Little Man Tate. Atom Egoyan meets Bruce Beresford ( The Black Robe) at a party and is mistaken for the limo driver. But Egoyan wins the $25,000 prize for best Canadian feature -- and promptly hands the money to John Pozer, who had received an honourable mention for The Grocer's Wife. The opening gala is The Black Robe (produced by Robert Lantos's Alliance), at $14-million, to that point the most expensive Canadian film ever made. The closing gala: My Own Private Idaho. 1992: Year 17. Quentin Tarantino arrives with Reservoir Dogs, a film developed at Robert Redford's Sundance Institute. Redford, too, appears with A River Runs Through It, his homage to Montana. The opening gala is Léolo, by Jean-Claude Lauzon, in which a cat is tortured and a young boy masturbates with liver. It would be his last film. The closing gala is documentarian Ron Mann's Twist, delivered in traditional Mann style only hours after he finishes editing it. Other major screenings include Mr. Saturday Night (Billy Crystal), Glengarry Glen Ross (Al Pacino), Of Mice and Men (John Malkovich), Bob Roberts (Tim Robbins), Like Water for Chocolate and Neil Jordan's The Crying Game, later distributed by Miramax, and grossing $80-million. 1993: Year 18. Cronenberg's M. Butterfly is the opening gala, but other films prove more popular, including Belle Epoque, Jane Campion's The Piano, François Girard's Thirty Two Short Films about Glenn Gould and a sentimental Hollywood film, Rudy, which is the closing gala. 1994: Year 19. The Festival of Festivals changes its name to Toronto International Film Festival, accenting its global pursuit of cinematic treasures, old and new. British sales agent Carol Myer arrives back at her hotel after attending the opening of the Barnes Collection exhibition at the Art Gallery of Ontario to find 22 messages from prospective buyers of The Priest, a film about a homosexual Roman Catholic; it won the festival's People's Choice award. Helga Stephenson steps down as executive director and is succeeded by Piers Handling. The opening gala is Whale Music, adapted from a Paul Quarrington novel and starring Maury Chaykin. 1995: Year 20. Actor Mira Sorvino ( Mighty Aphrodite) and director Quentin Tarantino ( Four Rooms) become an item after meeting at Bistro 990. A year of dark films, with To Die For, The Crossing Guard, Leaving Las Vegas, Margaret's Museum and The Young Poisoner's Handbook, among others. The opening gala is Robert Lepage's Le Confessionnal, the screening rights for which become the subject of an ugly tug-of-war with the Montreal festival. Leaving Las Vegas had been scorned by programmers for Cannes, Venice and New York, but later won Nicolas Cage an Oscar for best actor. 1996: Year 21. A cavalcade of stars, from Cher and Demi Moore (who flies in on a private jet with her personal trainer, personal hairdresser and personal makeup artist) to Al Pacino, Kevin Spacey, Dustin Hoffman, Faye Dunaway, Tom Hanks (his directorial debut, That Thing You Do!, is the closing gala) and Angelica Huston. Jean-Luc Godard comes again, this time with a new work, For Ever Mozart. But despite an appreciative audience in Toronto, the film is never released in North America. The year's most popular film, by far, is Australia's Shine, starring Geoffrey Rush; it later wins seven Oscars. 1997: Year 22. The triumph of Atom Egoyan, who screens The Sweet Hereafter, which later nabs two Academy Award nominations. But Thom Fitzgerald's equally bleak The Hanging Garden snares the People's Choice award -- and an MGM U.S. distribution deal for $500,000. The festivities are graced by the likes of Kim Basinger, Brad Pitt, Kevin Spacey, Anthony Hopkins and Robert Duvall whose The Apostle is bought in a postscreening bidding war by Miramax for $5-million. The festival marks the debut of director Paul Thomas Anderson's Boogie Nights. The closing gala is Pitt's Seven Years in Tibet. 1998: Year 23. It's star power personified, in the form of Jennifer Lopez, Billy Bob Thornton, Tom Cruise, Meryl Streep and many others. François Girard's The Red Violin is the opening gala, one of several smaller films that will later find a big audience, including Central Station, Hilary and Jackie and Little Voice. The whirlwind known as Roberto Benigno brings Life is Beautiful, a Holocaust comedy that goes on to become the highest-grossing foreign film ever in North America. In total, the festival screens 310 films from 53 countries. 1999: Year 24. Hollywood continues to assert itself in Toronto, increasingly using the festival as a major launching pad for features. Without question, the top billing goes to American Beauty, the directorial debut of British stage director Sam Mendes; it wins the most-popular-film award. But there were several Canadian beauties as well -- Patricia Rozema's Mansfield Park; Jeremy Podeswa's The Five Senses, Allan Moyle's New Waterford Girl, producer Robert Lantos's Sunshine, Atom Egoyan's Felicia's Journey and Norman Jewison's Hurricane, with Denzel Washington. Reuben (Hurricane) Carter himself appears at the special screening of the film.


The growth of the Toronto International Film Festival, 1976 to 2000

                           1976  1980  1985  1990  1995  1999  2000
Number of films screened   140   180   233   291   298   319   329
Festival capacity          n/a   n/a   n/a   241*  270*  320*  320*
Number of attending press  145   215   285   400   644   775   800+/-

-*in thousands