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TIFF Gets Ready for the Stars — and the Lines

Toronto’s giant film festival — an 11-day haven for cinema fans — slowly comes to life

At about 10 p.m. on Wednesday night, a pair of workmen pushed a big cart through the doors of the Scotiabank Theatre, a flashy multiplex in downtown Toronto. The cart was loaded down with two things: metal poles, and padded ropes that will be strung between the poles to control the unruly hordes that will descend upon the Scotiabank on Thursday.

It's time for the Toronto International Film Festival – where, to be fair, the hordes aren't unruly so much as they're enthusiastic. A haven for cinema fans who for the next 11 days will get to view an enormous array of awards contenders and pretenders, midnight movies and arthouse delicacies, TIFF is, in many ways, too much of a good thing.

Scotiabank TheatreThat means that even the flashy confines of the Scotiabank, where most of the festival's press and industry screenings take place, is going to need some serious line-control props to handle the influx of film fans, buyers, media and industry professionals.

The official opening-night gala doesn't take place until Thursday night at 8, when Davis Guggenheim's U2 documentary "From the Sky Down" will premiere at Roy Thomson Hall. Bono and the Edge will be the first in a parade of stars that before TIFF is done will include George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Glenn Close, Tilda Swinton, Kirsten Dunst and many more.

But "From the Sky Down" not the only notable film to be unveiled on Thursday, which looks to be an unusually heavy day for a TIFF opening day. Werner Herzog's death-row documentary "Into the Abyss," which won acclaim when it screened at Telluride, also has its premiere on Thursday night; also screening are Wim Wenders' doc "Pina," about the legendary choreographer Pina Bausch, and Gus Van Sant's "Restless."

For industry professionals and media with access to the festival's P&I (for press and industry) screenings, though, the day starts much earlier. Oliver Hermanus' "Beauty" kicks off the screenings at 9 a.m., the controversial Lars von Trier's "Melancholia" half an hour later, Bela Tarr's Hungarian Oscar entry "The Turin Horse" at 11.

I'm leaving out the 16 other P&I screenings that take place before noon, part of 47 industry screenings that day. (It's a light day for public screenings: only 19.)

On the afternoon P&I lineup are two of Sony's big Oscar contenders, Bennett Miller's "Moneyball" with Brad Pitt, and George Clooney's "The Ides of March" with Ryan Gosling. They'll have back-to-back galas on Friday night, but screen for the press on Thursday.

Wednesday also saw other activity in Toronto. The festival hosted its annual RBC Emerging Filmmaker press conference, at which it introduced the five young directors chosen to participate in the annual program: Kara Blake, Kaveh Nabatian, Jared Raab, Gabriel Taraboulsy and Sean Wainsteim.

Dolby Laboratories, meanwhile, hosted a panel discussion titled "Surrounded@toronto," at which a quartet of figures from the tech side of filmmaking talked about sound and visual innovations that are affecting what we see and what we hear in theaters and at home.

Among the illustrations provided at the panel was a first look at footage from the immersive and disquieting "Samsara," a wordless film that was shot in 70mm and required special equipment brought into the TIFF Bell Lightbox so it could premiere in Toronto.  (Full disclosure: I moderated the Dolby panel.) 

And with those preliminaries out of the way, TIFF is underway. Over the next week, deals will be made, parties will be thrown, interviews will be done and hundreds of films will be screened many more hundreds of times.

Check back with TheWrap's Report from Toronto column for full daily coverage.