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TORONTO: SEPTEMBER 9, 2011 -- Gerard Butler is the star of Machine Gun Preacher, which is showing at TIFF. Photo by Della Rollins for The Globe and Mail (Della Rollins/Freelance photographer Della Rol)
TORONTO: SEPTEMBER 9, 2011 -- Gerard Butler is the star of Machine Gun Preacher, which is showing at TIFF. Photo by Della Rollins for The Globe and Mail (Della Rollins/Freelance photographer Della Rol)

The TIFF weekend diary Add to ...

Friday 10:10 a.m.

Gerard Butler dismisses his bodyguard from his hotel interview room at the Intercontinental on Front. The bodyguard is there because he and his colleagues on the film Machine Gun Preacher have received death threats. (Directed by Marc Forster, it’s based on the true story of Sam Childers, an American biker and former drug dealer turned preacher who routinely risks his life to rescue kidnapped child soldiers in the Sudan.) The bodyguard gives Butler – who looks plenty meaty enough to take care of himself – an “Are you sure?” look. Butler nods slowly and the guard exits. Butler rolls his eyes. “Last night, when we came out of the airport, we were attacked by this crowd of paparazzi, crowding in, yelling, flashbulbs popping,” he says, in a Scottish accent thick enough to stuff a haggis. “We had all our bags slung over us, we couldn’t move, and he [the bodyguard]was just sort of standing there. Hello, I really could have used you then. Now, here in the room with one journalist, he’s all ready to go.”

Friday 1 p.m.

Michel Hazanavicius, the director of the pretty much irresistible, silent black-and-white comedy The Artist, says he’s discovered an interesting thing about other filmmakers. They envy him.

“I was talking to Alexander Payne at another festival and he said, ‘You did what I wanted to do. You made a silent movie.’ I think, really, every filmmaker has this fantasy.”

The director’s own fantasy started about eight years ago. He had always admired the great directors who came from the silent era – Lang, Hitchcock, Ford, Lubitsch and Murnau – but “no one would do it. French television won’t even show black and white movies on television any more.”

It wasn’t until he had a couple of successful James Bond spoof films under his belt that Hazanavicius got his chance. After taking the time to study silent cinema and focusing on Hollywood films from the late twenties, he made his film.

“Why do other directors dream of doing this? Because it was a true director’s medium. The writing was created in the service of the direction. It’s not naturalistic it’s a oneiric [dream-like]form that’s a little like saying to the audience ‘Once upon a time...’”

Though it was initially hard to find a producer, he says, he had an attractive pitch: There would be no language barrier anywhere. Though it may not play as well in France as films made in French, it had a ready audience around the world, where language barrier wouldn’t exist.

As a comparison, he mentions the global success of animated films, which are dubbed in different languages around the world. “Pixar, in particular, is making some of the best films in the world right now, and, as in the silent era, everyone in the world can enjoy them equally.”

Friday 6:30 p.m.

Friday’s private pre-screening dinner for Sons of Norway, the Norwegian movie starring John Lydon – aka Johnny Rotten – was a cozy but bittersweet affair, like the movie itself. Held at The Stirling Room in the Distillery, about 25 people attended. The movie’s producer Christian Fredrik Martin was the host. He has two hot movies at TIFF, the other being the thriller Headhunters. A clearly exhausted and jet-lagged Lydon arrived, said some “hello’s” and then sat alone, nursing a beer for a while. He was hoping to revive himself for the dinner and the screening but also hoping – as were many there – that an invitation to Bono and The Edge of U2 to attend the dinner would be accepted. A meeting of rock royalty was on the cards and the word was that the attendance of Bono and The Edge was “likely but not certain.”

Then word came that downtown Toronto traffic was snarled and the U2 guys had been told they would be unlikely to make it to the Distillery before the dinner ended. Lydon joined the dinner, sat at the head of the table and mostly chatted with Sons of Norway director Jens Lien. When Lien made a brief speech saying how pleased he and his movie’s team were to be at TIFF, Lydon shouted, “I’m not!” And then cackled, Johnny Rotten-style. This managed to lighten the mood and it didn’t matter that the U2 stars weren’t coming. Here was the original Punk hero holding court. He did that mostly outside on the sidewalk, smoking and chatting with guests from the Embassy of Norway and with actor Nikolaj Coster-Waldau who has a major role in Headhunters and is one the stars of the HBO series Game of Thrones. Tourists wandering the Distlllery were mostly unaware that the cackling and laughing from inside a small group shrouded in a cloud of thick ciggie smoke was that of the original Punk star. Lydon was revived for the screening where he said, “I don’t give my name to much but I gave my name to this, because it’s about youthful rebellion, and I still consider myself a rebel and youthful.”

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