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Thursday, 7 September, 2000, 12:07 GMT 13:07 UK
Toronto's anniversary high
Gwyneth Paltrow stars in Duets,
Gwyneth Paltrow stars in Duets, directed by her father
Visitors to Toronto from Thursday will notice a buzz in the air as the city's international film festival celebrates its 25th birthday.

What started as a low-key event for local film buffs has grown into one of the world's top movie showcases.

It is recognised as a launch pad for Oscar contenders - including Chariots of Fire, The Crying Game and American Beauty.

Toronto also regularly attracts a wealth of Hollywood stars.

Robert De Niro
Robert De Niro back on serious dramatic form in Men of Honor

More than 400 directors and actors are expected in town before proceedings wind up on 16 September.

Faces to look out for include Robert De Niro, Gwyneth Paltrow, Al Pacino, Richard Gere, Sarah Jessica Parker and Liz Hurley.

Many will be coming to promote their own new screen offerings. The rest will be there to catch as many of the 329 films from 50 countries as they can.

Showcase

Toronto's film festival is non-competitive and unashamedly offers up an eclectic mix of big budget features and arty projects.

Among the high-profile films creating excitement this year is Duets, starring Gwyneth Paltrow as a karaoke singer in the much-talked about comedy directed by her father.

Girlfight
Girlfight tackles discrimination against women in sport

Men of Honor features screen legend Robert de Niro and Cuba Gooding Jnr in story of naval intrigue.

The controversial world of equal opportunity for women in sport - and boxing in particular - is explored in Girlfight, while Robert Altman makes family strife the subject of Dr T And The Women with Richard Gere.

You Can Count on Me and Two Family House are also titles worth remembering as winners from last winter's Sundance Film Festival.

On the more arty side of Toronto's anniversary line-up are the first 10 projects from an international effort to film all 19 plays by Samuel Beckett.

Among the Beckett films being premièred over the next 10 days is David Mamet's Catastrophe featuring Sir John Gielgud's last screen appearance.

Launchpad

Toronto's ability to pick wide-screen winners has made the festival a favourite testing spot for Hollywood studios.

Cameron Crowe's Almost Famous
Cameron Crowe's Almost Famous has generated interest

Playing a significant part in this process is the festival's one major prize, the People's Choice, which is awarded according to audience votes.

Last year's winner was American Beauty from Dreamworks, which went on to sweep the board at the Academy Awards.

This time, Dreamworks is showcasing two films. First is Cameron Crowe's Almost Famous, an autobiographical account of his work as a teenage rock writer for Rolling Stone.

The second is The Contender, starring Joan Allen as a vice presidential hopeful embroiled in a sex scandal.

Sir Joh Gielgud
Sir Joh Gielgud's last screen role is featured

Also coming to Toronto is writer-director Joel Hershman, a good example of the kind of the optimism Toronto inspires.

Hershman hopes to land a distributor for his comedy Greenfingers, starring Prime Suspect actress Helen Mirren.

"This was definitely the festival we wanted to get into," Hershman explained.

"Everyone was saying: 'Go to Toronto, it's a great festival. The audiences are terrific.'

"When we told the stars we got in, they were thrilled, because they all knew about Toronto's reputation."

See also:

04 Sep 00 | Entertainment
Depp drama excites Venice
31 Aug 00 | Entertainment
Clint's career toasted in Venice
01 Sep 00 | Entertainment
Hollywood comes to France
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