North America's prestigious film festival gets underway, with a rush of premieres.
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9 Sep 2013 - 9:28 AM  UPDATED 16 Jan 2014 - 3:06 PM

The 38th Toronto Film Festival kicked off this weekend, and once again the city filled with press, movie stars, and film-lovers from around the world. Having arrived from Telluride, where a journalist has to use her wits to find the press office—randomly located down an unmarked staircase adjacent to a real estate storefront, a tiny office populated only by the two lonely festival employees tasked with handing out media badges—it's tough to feel special in Toronto. Here there are thousands of accredited media and industry crawling about, long lines for badges, and only a few dozen people the public actually want to see.

Despite seeming to grow each year, Toronto maintains its reputation for making each of its films feel like a star. This year, those 288 films include twenty gala premieres, including Ron Howard's Rush, Australian director Jonathan Teplitzsky's The Railway Man, and John Krokidas's Sundance favourite Kill Your Darlings, in which Daniel Radcliffe and Ben Foster star as beat poets Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs, respectively. Special presentations include Dallas Buyers Club, Hateship Loveship (directed by Liza Johnson and starring Kristen Wiig, Guy Pearce, and Nick Nolte), and Telluride surprises Prisoners and 12 Years a Slave, the latter of which prompted both walkouts and a standing ovation when it premiered here over the weekend.

A major junction in the Oscar railroad, TIFF has maintained its passion for both documentary and international film (TIFF has a knack for programming future foreign language Academy Award nominees). This year the festival continues its two-day documentary conference, which will feature appearances from Alex Gibney and Sarah Polley, among others. Errol Morris brings his The Unknown Known to Toronto, where it will play alongside new films from Marcel Ophüls (a family history called Ain't Misbehavin'), Claude Lanzmann, (whose The Last of the Unjust features a never-before-seen interview conducted for his landmark Shoah) and another long sociological study from Frederick Wiseman, this one called At Berkeley, about the southern California university.

Athens is the focus of its own 'City to City' program, but Australia and New Zealand have a strong presence this year. The Fifth Estate, which opened the festival, takes Aussie Julian Assange (played by Benedict Cumberbatch, who makes a festival three-fer with 12 Years a Slave and August: Osage County) as its subject. Australian-directed films include John Curran's Tracks, Aaron Wilson's Canopy, about an Australian pilot stranded in Singapore during World War II, and Sarah Spillane's Around the Block, in which Christina Ricci plays an American teacher new to Sydney. Sydney native John Teplitzsky brings The Railway Man to TIFF, where it will make its world premiere along with Matthew Saville's Felony. Expect reviews of both films in the coming days, and more news from the nerve center of the North American film industry, for a few days each September, at least.