“Probing” is the word Piers Handling, CEO/director of the Toronto International Film Festival, used to describe current world cinema.

“Probing” is the word Piers Handling, CEO/director of the Toronto International Film Festival, used to describe current world cinema. Handling spoke to ScreenDaily after the annual press conference announcing 15 Galas and 35 Special Presentations for TIFF’s 35th edition (which runs Sept 9-19).

“I think it’s an anxious world,” Handling said. “It’s the general uncertainty that’s out there in the world, be it environmental, be it political, economic, or be it personal. It’s not a settled world anymore,” and such “angst” is reflected in many films, including the red carpet galas.

Of the films announced today, 25 are world premieres including the Canada/South Africa co-production The Bang Bang Club about the final bloody days of white rule in South Africa and the demise of apartheid.

High-profile world premieres also include Robert Redford’s The Conspirator (starring James McAvoy and Kevin Kline), Emilio Estevez’s The Way (starring his father Martin Sheen), John Cameron’s Rabbit Hole (starring Nicole Kidman), and Casino Jack (starring Kevin Spacey as a high-powered lobbyist).

Handling says that attending stars will be announced in August as everyone “wants to come”, but these “very busy people” must juggle shooting and premieres before confirming.

There are more UK titles this year than usual, including world premieres of West is West (Andy De Emmony’s flip of East is East), Rowan Joffe’s remake of Brighton Rock, Nigel Cole’s Made in Dagenham, Mark Romanek’s Never Let Me Go (starring Keira Knightley, Andrew Garfield and Carey Mulligan), Richard Ayoade’s Submarine and Michael Winterbottom’s The Trip.

Barney’s Version, produced by Robert Lantos, will have its North American premiere at TIFF, with stars Dustin Hoffman, Paul Giamatti, Minnie Driver and Scott Speedman in attendance. “They’ll all be here,” a Serendipity Point spokesperson told Screen.

Lantos said: “There is no better place in the world than TIFF to launch a film, including Cannes, for a variety of reasons. It has to do with the timing in September, and the dream to launch at the beginning of the awards’ season, which is not in May. The silly summer season has come to an end. Those people who are interested in films for more than just popcorn are coming back to the movies. The media is back in full force. Vacations are over. Kids are back at school, so films for kids are making room for films for adult audiences. And all that is ushered in by the Toronto Film Festival. It becomes the film industry story for the next six months, and it all begins in Toronto.”

Lantos films have opened the festival 10 times, but this year opening night coincides with the Jewish New Years Rosh Hashanah, and closing day of Sept 19 is Yom Kippur, but fest dates cannot be moved. The previously announced hockey comedy, Score: A Hockey Musical kicks off the festival on Sept 9.

The impressive list of North American premieres also includes a bevy of UK titles including Stephen Frears’ Tamara Drewe and Sylvain Chomet’s The Illusionist, as well as UK coproductions such as Woody Allen’s You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger (with US and Spain) and Tom Hooper’s The King’s Speech (with Australia), starring Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush. Mike Leigh’s Cannes hit Another Year receives a special presentation.

Notable North American premieres also include US titles The Town from Ben Affleck and The Debt, directed by John Madden starring Helen Mirren.

TIFF co-director Cameron Bailey noted it is a “monumental year of change for the festival,” especially with the fest moving to a new headquarters, TIFF Bell Lightbox in the downtown heart of the city’s entertainment district.

The new host hotel, the Hyatt Regency, is next door to TIFF Bell Lightbox and there’s a highly anticipated Filmmakers’ Lounge around the corner. There’s also new industry and press screening rooms (at the Scotiabank theatres), and the clincher: virtually everything is this within a five-minute walk.

Handling said it’s a “watershed” year for TIFF as the big move combines the “past, present and future” of the festival.

“It’s such a huge year for us,” he said. “It’s the 35th anniversary of the festival, the 20th anniversary of the Cinematheque and year zero for TIFF Bell Lightbox.”

Handling actually attended the first Festival of Festivals as a “member of the paying public”, so he says “it’s a phenomenal thing to be running an event of this size. He noted that TIFF’s 51 returning sponsors have also been joined by nine new ones and the event has found found stability in “owning” its own home, however, numbers are not available as the fest budget per se is not broken out from the corporation’s overall budget.

Nonetheless, the Handling-the-film buff insists that it is the films which are the star attraction—a huge draw for the buyers and sellers who attend in droves from around the globe.

“One of the key things from the industry side is that they can actually see these films”, as opposed to just attending “non-stop meetings,” he said.

In addition to the Scotiabank theatres, “three of the five” new TIFF Bell Lightbox screening rooms will also be used for screenings and “two will be used for installations,” he said. Those are in addition to many local theatres used for the public screenings which provide the invaluable test market launch pad.

Handling also underlines that on top of industry event, that makes it easier to actually see films. “While there’s a lot of importance attached to having a film here, people still have time to enjoy themselves.

“The media, the industry, the filmmakers; they all say they love coming to Toronto,” he laughed, to watch films. And Bailey hopes that “everyone will set aside the [additional] second Sunday, to just watch movies.”

Bailey said that the “full line-up [of films] will be announced later” in August, and that the total of films will dip slightly this year, but a whopping “270-280” features will unspool.

For the list of films announced today, click here.