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Roundup: Fact-based stories saturate Toronto film festival line-up [China Economic Information Service (Xinhua)]

September 14, 2013


Roundup: Fact-based stories saturate Toronto film festival line- up

by Phoebe Ho

TORONTO, Sept. 13 (Xinhua) -- Instead of looking at films as a form of escapism, this year's Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) is, instead, asking cinephiles to take a hard look at reality and the many inspiring stories that've taken place in history and in the recent past.

The usual mix of comedies, dramas, horror and other film genres that make up TIFF's lineup was heavily saturated with a number of biopics and stories that were inspired by real people and events this year.

It was that very theme that kicked off TIFF last Thursday, as they premiered Bill Condon's The Fifth Estate as their opening night gala. The film, a biography of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, details the rise and fall of the non-profit online service which posts classified government and corporate documents.

This trend carried on throughout the 11-day movie extravaganza's line-up of 366 feature-length and short films from 70 countries and regions.

Many high profile films that received a ton of Oscar buzz at the festival this year all offered up a dose of reality to the Toronto audience, including 12 Years a Slave, which tells the story of a free black American Solomon Northup who was kidnapped and sold into slavery. The film, adapted from his autobiography, details his experience while highlighting his inextinguishable spirit.

Mandela: A Long Walk to Freedom, chronicling the inspiring and epic story of Nelson Mandela, gives the audience a look into the life of the legendary South African anti-apartheid leader, from his early years, the 27 years he spent in prison up until his presidency.

Some other ones include: Rush, starring Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Bruhl, is a biopic about a pair of Formula One racers back in 1976; and the documentary Finding Vivian Maier, which traces the life of a nanny whose talent for photography wasn't discovered until after she passed away.

Those are just some of many endless real-life adaptations in the line-up this year.

Despite the obvious theme, TIFF's artistic director Cameron Bailey said it was something that developed organically throughout their programming process.

"It really was just a coincidence that we happened to have so many films based on true life stories at the festival this year," he explained.

"But I think it makes sense if you think about it because we do show films that are trying to transform the way people see the world through film."

Bailey said there is something about real-life stories that is universally appealing.

"True stories are often very inspirational, the story of Nelson Mandela in the film that we premiered here is a beautifully made film, very inspiring, very emotional," said Bailey.

"On the other hand, a film like Rush, which is based on two Formula One racers, it's not sort of a big philosophical or political film, but it's exciting because it's a true story, and so those are often some of the most dramatic films and some of the most affecting films that you have."

This line-up goes hand-in-hand with TIFF's mission to transform the way people see the world through film.

The festival's CEO Piers Handling said their goal, as they search all over the world for the best of the best films to bring back to their audience, is to put something on the big screen that could challenge their viewers.

"They express a different kind of reality, it's not a fantasy reality of the comic book heroes, it's actually putting these people in front of ordinary audiences and saying these are different people, these are special people," said Handling.

"Sometimes they're just ordinary like you and me, but they've actually done amazing things in their life, why can't we emulate them? Why can't we be a little bit like that?"

Each year's line-up is the culmination of a rigorous selection process by TIFF's team of 18 programmers, who search high and low for films that not only entertain, but can start a dialogue and give their 400,000 plus audience something to think about.

"You look for something that's different, you look for something that's arresting, something that's really going to grab you, and so the experience isn't just left in the cinema, it's an experience that you take away from that cinema," said Handling.

Besides the celebrities, parties and glamour of TIFF, the festival's great selection of films -- many of which go on to winning the Oscars and other prestigious awards -- is what has helped turn the small event that started back in 1976 into a major film festival for the film industry.

Handling said their line-up, which usually offers up a wide variety of films, is there to ensure people are not just seeing one form of cinema -- the conventional narrative American film that occupies most of the screen space.

"Every culture has a different way of expressing themselves, different stories, different rhythms and also different inflections," he said. "I always look for that rich variety. I don't want a Chinese film to look like an American film, to look like an Australian film, to look like a Chilean film."

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