Ararat to open TIFF2002

Ending media speculation of a quiet battle between Canada’s star directors Atom Egoyan and David Cronenberg for the most coveted spot at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, Egoyan’s latest film Ararat has been confirmed as the Opening Night Gala feature at the 27th TIFF, unspooling Sept. 5-14.

Ararat, Egoyan’s biggest production to date, stars David Alpay, Charles Aznavour, Eric Bogosian, Brent Carver, Marie-Josee Croze, Bruce Greenwood, Arsinee Khanjian, Elias Koteas and Christopher Plummer. The story concerns how two families in modern Toronto are impacted by the Armenian genocide at the hands of the Ottoman Turks (1915-1923). A production of Alliance Atlantis and Serendipity Point Films, the film played out of competition at the recent Cannes Film Festival.

Ararat has stirred controversy across the globe in Turkish communities where the genocide is denied.

Cronenberg’s Spider, starring Ralph Fiennes, Miranda Richardson, Gabriel Byrne and Lynn Redgrave, will still be featured in the Gala program. The psychological drama, which also played at Cannes, likely lost out due to its more claustrophobic scope. The film details the steady descent into madness of a young man relocated from prison to a halfway house.

Cronenberg was at the festival’s opening press conference to thank festival director Piers Handling for his film’s selection, as though to say ‘no hard feelings.’ Both he and Egoyan have strong and long-standing relationships with TIFF, and new films by either have been shoe-ins to kick off the fest. But the fact that both have new films at this year’s fest created a sticky political situation.

In other announcements, TIFF2002 marks the debut of the Visions program, which will spotlight international films that break new ground, either through narrative or technique.

This year will also include a remembrance of 9/11, which ground last year’s screenings and festivities to a halt.

This year’s Canadian Retrospective will feature nine films by documentary filmmaker Allan King, a cinema verite pioneer for films such as Warrendale and Married Couple. TIFF organizers obtained copies of King’s docs through the CBC and have transferred them to digital video for preservation and projection.

The Canadian Open Vault will present La Vraie nature de Bernadette, a 1972 feature from director Gilles Carle that has long been considered one of Canada’s best films. It stars Micheline Lanctot as a woman who abandons city life for the country.

The Director’s Spotlight is on French helmer Robert Guediguian, and will include the North American premiere of his latest film, Marie-Jo et ses 2 amours. The national spotlight will be on films from South Korea, with eight titles confirmed so far.

Other galas at this year’s fest, which will screen 300 features and shorts, include Moonlight Mile, a Touchstone Pictures drama starring Dustin Hoffman, Susan Sarandon and Holly Hunter that is loosely autobiographical of writer/director Brad Silberling, and Warner Bros.’ White Oleander, directed by Peter Kosminsky and starring Robin Wright Penn, Michelle Pfeiffer and Rene Zelleweger. The film has generated considerable buzz around Alison Lohman’s lead performance as a girl who goes through various L.A. foster homes.