“Conflict and mortality in Toronto” via @rapplerdotcom

TORONTO, Canada – North America’s largest film festival opens Thursday, September 6, in Toronto with a wide-ranging trove of new movies and a spotlight on global conflicts and baby boomers’ mortality.

“It’s our most diverse slate ever, with 72 countries represented,” Toronto International Film Festival co-director Cameron Bailey told AFP. “There’s a lot of new filmmakers presenting this year, too” as well as 146 world premieres.

In an increasingly competitive circuit, film festivals are jostling to distinguish themselves from others, touting more and more firsts.

This year’s Toronto firsts include Ben Affleck’s “Argo,” that looks back at the storming of the US embassy in Tehran in 1979, and “English Vinglish,” that marks the comeback of India’s biggest female star, Sridevi.

It will also include the family drama “Silver Linings Playbook” from “The Fighter” director David Russell, starring Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro, as well as “Caught in the Web,” a cyber-bullying drama by Chen Kaige.

Bailey noted that many filmmakers this year have focused their lenses on the recent unrest in Sri Lanka, the Middle East and elsewhere.

The Toronto Film Festival — also for the first time — has scheduled talks after each screening with experts, such as political scientist Janice Stein and former Canadian opposition leader Michael Ignatieff.

“We’ve seen these kinds of subjects treated in films before, but we’re hoping to go beyond the initial description of a conflict and offer deeper insights into what is going on,” Bailey said.

He pointed to a documentary portrait of a man who escapes a North Korean labor camp in “Camp 14 — Total Control Zone”; the quest for UN recognition of Palestine in “State 194”; and candid interviews with former heads of Israel’s intelligence and security agency Shin Bet in “The Gatekeepers.”

If global conflicts seem too heavy to go with popcorn and soda, there is also an increasing number of films about aging and death, largely attributable to baby boomers growing older and “facing their own mortality,” Bailey said.

In this category, Dustin Hoffman will be in town for the unveiling of his new film “Quartet,” about a string quartet’s future hanging in the balance after a member is diagnosed with a life threatening illness.

Closing night film “Song For Marion” also touches on the end of life, casting Vanessa Redgrave in the role of a curmudgeonly retiree’s beloved wife who falls ill.

The smash success of music documentaries — following last year’s focus on U2, Pearl Jam and Neil Young — has spawned a similar series this year.

“Artifact” follows Jared Leto and his band Thirty Seconds to Mars as they battle their record label in “Artifact.”

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Credit: Rappler