There are times this year when Toronto must have felt like a city under siege - the combination of SARS, a strong Canadian dollar and a power blackout had a devastating effect on the city's allure.
The film festival circuit has been suffering from a similar cocktail of misfortune with the absence of star names and the poor quality of competition films among the criticisms levelled at Festivals from Cannes to Locarno. Now, everyone can breathe a collective sigh of relief after a Toronto Film Festival that offered a reassuring sense of business as usual.
The extraordinary thing about Toronto 2003 was the way it restored normality to the Festival experience. Titles and talents generated buzz, films were bought and sold and a healthy crop of celebrity appearances included Nicole Kidman, Meg Ryan, Denzel Washington, Anthony Hopkins, Robert Altman, Jane Campion and Omar Sharif. The festival's announcement of ambitions plans for a new film centre to open in 2006 added to the impression that optimism was back in fashion.
There was the suggestion that the accelerated Oscar calendar might have transformed Toronto into a more significant landmark on the road to nominations but that seems to have been the one thing that didn1t happen this year. No single film emerged, trailing glory in the manner of previous Toronto premieres like American Beauty or Almost Famous.
In many cases, it was the high profile American titles that once again disappointed, notably Robert Altman's lifeless ballet drama The Company, Carl Franklin's preposterous film noir Out Of Time and Jane Campion's In The Cut, a psycho-sexual thriller that lacked the courage of its convictions.
If there were no surefire Oscar contenders there were some long and not so long shot performance possibilities established in Scarlett Johansson, a luminous presence in both Girl With A Pearl Earring and Lost In Translation, Nicolas Cage in Matchstick Men, Sean Penn in 21 Grams, Peter Sarsgaard in Shattered Glass and, inevitably, Nicole Kidman in The Human Stain.
It was a good year for Canadian cinema with a range of work revealing that there is life beyond Atom Egoyan and David Cronenberg. The black and white curio The Saddest Music In The World underlined the distinctive talent of writer-director Guy Maddin. Documentaries Go Further and The Corporation attracted strong public enthusiasm and opening night choice Denys Arcand's Les Invasions Barbares continued its winning streak by collecting the City Award for Best Canadian Film.
The Festival's exhaustive international programme comprised numerous titles that have the potential to combine critical enthusiasm with significant arthouse appeal, whether that was Andrey Zvagintsev's haunting Venice prize-winner The Return, Stephen Fry's exuberant social satire Bright Young Things, Anders Thomas Jensen's dark comedy The Green Butchers, Kevin Macdonald's exceptional documentary Touching The Void or Takeshi Kitano's Zatoichi which won the People's Choice audience award.
The one surefire mainstream hit to emerge from the Festival was Richard Curtis's crowd-pleasing Christmas ensemble Love, Actually although why it screened as a work in progress may also be the Festival's biggest mystery.
At the end of the Festival, director Piers Handling was said to be relieved that everything had gone so smoothly. Given the abundance of riches in the programme, the healthy sales activity and general satisfaction with the Festival1s organisation, Toronto didn't just survive 2003, it emerged as more essential than ever.