McGowan Scores at TIFF opener


The puck has dropped on the most unconventional film ever to open the Toronto International Film Festival, as Michael McGowan’s Score: A Hockey Musical kicked off the 35th edition of the fest on Thursday at a glitzy affair at Roy Thompson Hall.

While the inevitable critics are calling the musical comedy the worst film ever to open the high profile event, audience members were charmed by the film’s cast, including Olivia Newton-John, who got rousing applause when she was introduced on stage prior to opening credits.

“She came,” McGowan told the expecting crowd. “I still can’t believe she wanted to be in a hockey musical. Please welcome one of the nicest people I’ve ever met and Canada’s newest hockey mom: Olivia Newton-John!”

Praise for McGowan came from the top.

“The arts [are] incredibly difficult. You poured your heart and soul into this. Michael, this is your night,” heritage minister James Moore said on stage at Roy Thomson Hall, with McGowan and cast waiting in the wings to be introduced.

Musicians Nelly Furtado, who has a cameo in the film, and Hawksley Workman, who helped write some of the film’s songs, also received a hearty welcome. Other Canadian celebrities who appear in the film, including CBC host George Stroumboulopoulos, hockey dad Walter Gretzky, and former NHL hockey player Theo Fleury were also on hand.

The unabashedly Canadian film, about a teen hockey phenom’s road to stardom, was the complete antithesis of last year’s opener, the evolutionist drama Creation. (The British biopic became the first non-Canadian film to open TIFF).

Score is McGowan’s third title at TIFF following One Week and Saint Ralph. The Toronto-born filmmaker was clearly moved as he got set to debut his film in the prestigious spot in front of family and friends.

“I’m going to enjoy it as it may never happen again,” he said, as he remembered starting out as a volunteer at TIFF. Score is distributed by Mongrel Media and opens in Canadian theatres on Oct. 22.

About 300 films will unspool during TIFF which runs Sept. 9-19.

With files from Etan Vlessing.