Last year at Toronto, the events of September 11 pushed everything else into numbed insignificance. This year, the Festival offered a comforting sense of business as usual - Miramax and Lion's Gate cherrypicked the top titles, celebrity-spotting recaptured the front pages and the old, familiar debate resumed over whether the Festival had become the victim of its own success. The latter argument gained in piquancy when even the most influential media figures failed to secure access to crowded press screenings.
Toronto honoured its unique position in the Festival calendar with due dignity. There was a moratorium on early screenings the day of September 11 along with world premieres for Jim Simpson's film of the Anne Nelson play The Guys, the humanist ensemble 11'09''01 and for the one-woman show Reno: Rebel Without A Cause.
The sense of a changed world filtered through almost every conversation. Was The Quiet American so anti-American that it might be denied a theatrical release' Would the imperialist heroics of The Four Feathers seem more or less relevant to a generation facing the possibility of war' Will a family's messy, coming to terms with death in Moonlight Mile strike a universal chord'
In Toronto to promote Moonlight Mile, Dustin Hoffman berated the timidity of modern studio filmmaking claiming that American film was derivative and trapped in a "McDonald's era". The Festival still awaits final weekend screenings of directorial debuts from Matt Dillon and Denzel Washington but on the evidence so far it has been hard to disagree. Whether its the slick, Twilight Zone-morality tale Phone Booth, Paul Schrader's moderately engaging Bob Crane biopic Auto Focus, Alan Rudolph's typically idiosyncratic marital drama The Secret Lives of Dentists or Robert Duvall's melancholy thriller The Assassination Tango, there has been nothing among the high profile American selections at Toronto to suggest a breakout Oscar contender in the tradition of American Beauty or Almost Famous, both of which premiered here.
Even a general favourite like Todd Haynes homage to 1950s melodrama Far From Heaven received far from universal praise and there seems a fatal tendency in current American cinema to sugar-coat everything and serve it up with a tinkling, American Beauty-style score. An unbearably syrupy adaptation of the bestselling novel White Oleander was a particularly grievous offender in this department.
In general, the Galas section of the Festival has been lacklustre. The charmless Juliette Binoche-Jean Reno two hander Jet Lag proved that Europe was just as capable of producing vacuous froth as any Hollywood major. More often than in recent memory, the true highlights of this year's Toronto came from other Festivals. Michael Moore's thought-provoking Bowling For Columbine, Peter Mullan's Golden Lion winner The Magdalene Sisters, Fernando Meirelles City Of God (Cidade de Deus) or Pedro Almodovar's Hable Con Ella(Talk To Her) may seem like old news to veterans of the Festival circuit but they were hot talking points in Toronto.
The generally poor showing of American and Canadian cinema was further underlined by a Festival that presented a range of international directors like Almodovar, Ken Loach (Sweet Sixteen, 11'09''01) and Phillip Noyce (Rabbit Proof Fence, The Quiet American) producing some of their best work in their fifties and sixties. Where, you wondered, are the great movies from American contemporaries like Jonathan Demme or Oliver Stone, Lawrence Kasdan or Sydney Pollack' Perhaps, it will take Martin Scorsese's The Gangs Of New York to answer that question.
If America and host country Canada failed to entrance there were several nations happy to snatch the limelight, including Britain, Iran and Korea.Singled out for a retrospective South Korea repaid the compliment with titles like the touching Jiburo(The Way Home) and the mesmerising Camel(s).
Other notable foreign-language highlights included the heartbreaking Open Hearts (Elsker Dig For Evigt), a Danish love triangle drama of rare maturity and emotion that proved there was a lot of life left in the Dogme movement. The Mexican New Wave continued to show its strength with Carlos Carrera's potent The Crime Of Father Amaro (El Crimen Del Padre Amaro) clearly possessing the potential to extend the international welcome for Amores Perros and Y Tu Mama Tambien.
Neil Jordan's shaggy dog thriller The Good Thief proved to be one of the more pleasant surprises of the Festival and proof that advance word is no indication of eventual quality. The Quiet American also belied its troubled reputation to emerge as a pitch perfect literary adaptation. Before the Festival, 11'9''01 was talked of as a ticking time bomb of controversy because one section dared to show compassion for a suicide bomber. In the event, it proved to be a well-measured response to last year's events with individual contributions ranging from the obscure (Shohei Imamura), to the poignant (Mira Nair) and the sharply political (Ken Loach).
In a Festival littered with disappointments (step forward Menno Meyjes turgid Max), it always paid to wait for the evidence of your own eyes. In a Festival of quantity rather than quality, there may be a lesson for the future too in the notion that less is more.