Autumn guide to film festivals

As this year’s Venice film festival draws towards its close, the cinepack moves on to pastures new and the lure of new releases in Toronto, London and Tokyo among a plethora of autumn film festivals.

Toronto International Film Festival

Toronto’s 11-day jamboree includes some impressive openings. The surprising thing is that many of them are British. “It’s been an extraordinary year for British film production, the range and diversity is exceptional,” says Piers Handling, the festival’s director.

Danny Slumdog Millionaire Boyle – who won the People’s Choice award here two years ago – brings 127 Hours, the gruelling story of mountain climber Aron Ralston’s ordeal when trapped in a Utah canyon.

Mark Romanek’s Never Let Me Go is an adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro’s 2005 Booker-shortlisted novel, with Carey Mulligan (remember An Education?), Keira Knightley and Andrew Garfield equally trapped, this time in a dystopian boarding school.

Helen Mirren will be on Toronto’s red carpet, alongside Knightley, for the opening of The Debt, directed by John Shakespeare in Love Madden: expect Mossad agents, Nazi war criminals, all that stuff. Mirren also illuminates Graham Greene’s Brighton Rock, which gets yet another cine makeover, this time transposed from the 1930s to the 1960s by debut director Rowan Joffe.

West is West (sequel to East is East) has the Mancunian Khan family struggling to survive. And the inevitable bit of royal stuff is supplied by Colin Firth, starring as a nervous George VI wrestling with his stammer in The King’s Tongue.

Other premiere offerings include Robert Redford’s civil war drama The Conspirator, and names familiar from television crop up too: David Friends Schwimmer directs Trust, which tackles the tricky subject of internet porn; John Carpenter’s new horror movie The Ward has Mad Men’s Jared Harris opposite Lyndsy Fonseca.

TIFF ends on September 19

New York Film Festival

One night in 2003, Harvard undergraduate and computer programming genius Mark Zuckerberg sits down at his computer. In a fury of blogging and programming, the idea spawned in his dorm room becomes a revolution in communication. Six years and 500m friends later, Mark Zuckerberg is the youngest billionaire in history... The Social Network is the movie everyone seems to be waiting for – although it’s hardly any surprise that Facebook’s creators did not quite find a smooth path to happiness. Directed by David Fincher with screenplay by Aaron Sorkin, it opens the New York festival on September 24 and kicks off 16 film-packed days.

The centepiece of the festival is – yet again – a Helen Mirren vehicle, Julie Taymor’s gender-transposed Tempest. As Prospera, Mirren is ably supported by a galaxy of stars including Russell Brand, Alfred Molina, Ben Whishaw, Tom Conti, Reeve Carney and Felicity Jones.

The closing-night special is a Clint Eastwood opening, Hereafter. A very surprising subject for Eastwood, it’s about the possibility of contacting loved ones who are, er, dead (sorry, “passed on”). Peter The Queen Morgan scripts three intersecting stories that explore the idea of alternate consciousnesses; Matt Damon stars with Cécile de France. Quite a surprising departure from Hollywood’s ubermeister.

Other highlights abound, among them the north American premiere of Hottentot Venus from Abdellatif Kechiche (The Secret of the Grain), which tells the true story of Saartjie Baartman, a slave from Cape Town who was exhibited as a freak-show attraction in early 19th-century Europe because of the size of her bottom and genitals. In a obvious comment on racism, Yahima Torres also delivers a complex picture of a woman in extremis.

The New York Film Festival runs from September 24-October 10

British Film Festival

The 54th edition of London’s festival runs from October 13-28, and opens with a gala showing of Danny Boyle’s 127 Hours (see Toronto, above). A documentary highlight is Africa United, a UK-South Africa-Rwanda co-production that tells the story of three Rwandan children who embark on an epic journey across seven African countries to attend the opening ceremony of the football World Cup in Johannesburg. It sounds a bit Incredible Journey winsome, but encounters with hippos are balanced with brushes with Aids and child prostitution. An “Experimenta” section brings the festival’s cutting-edge credentials, while special categories include “French Revolutions”, a clutch of French movies that bear all the hallmarks: Isabelle Huppert looking voluptous, Gerard Depardieu looking huge, lots of things with “love” in the title. Spanish influence is felt from Alejandro González Iñárritu (21 Grams, Babel) and a great performance from Javier Bardem in Biutiful, a tough drama of Barcelona’s underworld; meanwhile back in New York, in the apparently peceful milieu of the ballet, Darren Aronofsky directs Natalie Portman in Black Swan. Though many of these titles have already had an airing in Venice, Toronto or elsewhere (it’s the curse of LFF’s slot in the calendar), the festival as a whole has a rich load of goodies to savour.

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