The Toronto Film Festival, a cinematic playpen for the rich and famous as well as for the true blue devoted film fan, is underway, having opened Thursday, September 9. It runs through Saturday, Sept. 18. If you juggle your schedule just right, you might be able to catch seven movies a day. It’s been done. Many of the movie-crazy see five or six films a day, and average guys and gals are mightily pleased with three or four choices. The most I’ve ever seen in a single day is six features.

In spite of special passes and advance sales, it is absolutely possible to drive up to Toronto and enjoy the festival. Anyone who goes should be able to see at least 3 movies with no hassle. The secret is to be open to anything and everything. Don’t discriminate. Sure you might want to hang-out in the same theater space as some of this year’s stars like Annette Bening, Jeremy Irons, Danny Glover, Matt Dillon, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Peter Sarsgaard, Dustin Hoffman, Hilary Swank, Colin Firth, Sigourney Weaver, Charlize Theron, Andy Garcia, Joan Allen, Jamie Foxx, Laura Linney, Liam Neeson, Kevin Spacey, Sean Penn, Sandra Bullock, Joseph Fiennes, Orlando Bloom, Susan Sarandon, Lily Tomlin, Helen Hunt, Nick Nolte or Al Pacino; and you just might get lucky, but most movies have the director and a star or two in tow to introduce the film in the theater.

The best advice for those of you simply driving up is to get an early start and make the rounds of the theaters showing festival films. Look at the big board, and then the lobby standee for which showings actually have tickets available. Buy what you need, at around $16.00 Canadian. Theaters showing movies include the Cumberland, Varsity, Paramount, Elgin, Art Gallery Of Ontario Auditorium, Royal Ontario Museum Auditorium, the Ryerson Theatre, and Roy Thompson Hall where the star-packed Galas are shown. If screenings are sold out, there’s always the possibility of standing in line for a Rush Seat, but that’s a time-waster and your getting in depends on the length of the line. Additionally, the movie might have already started by the time you make it into the auditorium. Rush Seats for the Galas are usually available, but you will sit way up high in the third balcony. You can also go to the festival box offices at the ManuLife Centre on Bloor near Bay Street or the College Park location on Yonge near College. Or call 416-968-FILM and ask “what’d’ya got?” for your chosen day.

Some of the movies slated to play the festival this year include Head In The Clouds, The Assassination Of Richard Nixon, Beyond The Sea, The Libertine, Return To Sender, The Merchant Of Venice, Modigliani, Ray, The Motorcycle Diaries, A Good Woman, Stage Beauty, I Heart Huckabee, The Woodsman, Haven, Crash, Due South, Imaginary Heroes, Red Dust, Trauma, Wilby Wonderful, Siblings, Being Julia, P.S., Kinsey, Clean, Hotel Rwanda, Childstar, and so much more. But, let’s face it, a lot of you are cinephiles of the highest order, so how about this for your schedule; yep, you can go to the festival and hopefully see new works such as: Catherine Breillat’s Anatomie de L’enfer, Jean-Luc Godard’s Notre Musique, Pedro Almodovar’s Bad Education, Wim Wenders’ Land Of Plenty, John Waters’ A Dirty Shame, Todd Solondz’s Palindromes, Carlo Mazzacurati’s An Italian Romance, John Sayles’ Silver City, Gregg Araki’s Mysterious Skin, and top it off with an anthology picture entitled Eros, with segments by Michelangelo Antonioni, Steven Soderbergh, and Wong Kar Wai.

If it’s autographs you seek, hanging out around the Four Seasons Hotel or Roy Thomson Hall will satisfy your craving for movie stars, but they can be spotted anywhere. At Roy Thomson, where the Galas are held, the stars stroll the red carpet. There are true blue autograph hounds everywhere, some of them from Buffalo. In fact, years ago I promised never to reveal his identity, but one of the world’s – that’s world’s – greatest autograph collectors lives in Buffalo. He’s always at the Toronto Festival. How many signatures has he collected in his 40-plus years? Try more than 20,000. A tip of my hat to him.

If you can’t make it to Toronto, there’s always new material for home viewing. From Strand Releasing, which holds the gold standard for unique features, comes the DVD releases of Swoon and A Thousand Clouds Of Peace. Swoon is the exceptional, award-winning 1992 drama, stunningly photographed in black and white by Ellen Kuras, that tells the infamous true story of Leopold and Loeb, two very bright young Jewish men who, in 1920s Chicago, kidnapped and murdered a boy named Bobby Franks. In the film, the idea for the murder rises out of a desire to simply see if it could be done. The movie is chilling in its reality and sense of thrill-seeking, a cautionary take for today. It’s superbly written and directed by Tom Kalin. The DVD is a newly remastered version of the movie and is loaded with extras including commentary track, the original theatrical trailer, photo galleries of the filmmakers and the actual Leopold and Loeb trial, movie stills, and posters. Twelve years after its initial acclaimed release, the well-acted Swoon continues to have the power to overwhelm and merit discussion. A Thousand Clouds Of Peace is from Mexico and is written and directed by Julian Hernandez. Its full Mexican title is Mil Nubes de Paz Cercan el Cielo, Amor, Jamás Acabarás de Ser Amor. The 2003 movie has wowed audiences at film festivals, including Sundance. At the highly-competitive Berlin International Film Festival, it won the prestigious Teddy Award for Best Film, and was subsequently nominated for seven Mexican Oscars.

Festival movies are often a world unto themselves and many never receive theatrical release in the United States. DVD and VHS offer movie fanatics the opportunity to catch unusual films they might never get to see. A Thousand Clouds Of Peace is worth finding. The movie follows a young gay teenager in the big city, which is almost a Golden Age Of Hollywood cliché. Director Hernandez fully understands the empty heart the gay teen carries wherever he goes. He’s just broken up with his older, male lover, and wanders crowded streets quite lonely and in despair. The movie might be rooted in homosexual relationships, but its theme is universal. It’s about longing and desire and needs. Hernandez has delivered a frank and complex work that is a fascinating to look at visually, as it is to listen to its message of hope. By Michael Calleri ALT Movie Editor

The programmers for the 29th annual Toronto International Film Festival screened more than 3300 movies and ultimately selected 328 entries for this year’s movie extravaganza. Of the 328 films selected, 253 are full-length features.