Toronto film festival picks Darwin drama Creation as opener

The world premiere of Creation, a drama about evolution theorist Charles Darwin starring married actors Paul Bettany and Jennifer Connelly, has nabbed the opening night slot at this year's Toronto International Film Festival.
Paul Bettany stars as Charles Darwin in the film Creation, which will open the 2009 Toronto International Film Festival. ((Liam Daniel/RPC Nature Ltd.))
The world premiere of Creation, a drama about evolution theorist Charles Darwin starring married actors Paul Bettany and Jennifer Connelly, has nabbed the opening night slot at this year's Toronto International Film Festival.

Organizers announced their selection of the British film on Tuesday morning, as well as 22 more additions to its gala and special presentations lineups.

"We have traditionally opened with a Canadian film, but this year we chose to go a different route. We fell in love with this movie and this is the one, we felt, really sets the tone for the kinds of conversations we hope will happen around the films at the festival," TIFF co-director Cameron Bailey told reporters on Tuesday.

He added that the "tension between faith and reason" seen in Jon Amiel's film  Creation — which follows Darwin as he struggles with the views of his deeply religious wife and his world-changing theories — is also emerging in other films programmers have selected.

"This theme of that eternal conflict between faith and reason does seem to be emerging from different parts of the world, in different kinds of films: documentaries, fiction films, big films, small films," Bailey said.

Two American films and a Norse-Danish-German co-production have been added to the gala schedule:

  • Precious, Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire, which won wide acclaim at Sundance.
  • Get Low, starring Robert Duvall as a 1930s backwoods eccentric who stages his own funeral.
  • Max Manus, a film based on the true story of Norway's famed Second World War resistance fighter.

As well, 18 new and recent titles — from noted filmmakers like Jane Campion, Steven Soderbergh and Johnnie To and featuring actors such as Clive Owen, Eva Green, Matt Damon, Edward Norton and Kristin Scott Thomas — were also added to the TIFF 2009 schedule as special presentations:

  • The Boys are Back, Scott Hicks (Australia/U.K.).
  • Bright Star, Jane Campion (U.K./Australia).
  • City of Life and Death, Lu Chuan (China).
  • Cracks, Jordan Scott (Ireland).
  • Hadewijch, Bruno Dumont (France).
  • The Informant, Steven Soderbergh (U.S.).
  • The Invention of Lying, Ricky Gervais and Matthew Robinson (U.S.).
  • Leaves of Grass, Tim Blake Nelson (U.S.).
  • London River, Rachid Bouchareb (U.K./France/Algeria).
  • Mao's Last Dance, Bruce Beresford (Australia/U.S./China).
  • Moloch Tropical, Raoul Peck (Haiti/France).
  • Mother, Bong Joon-ho (South Korea).
  • Ondine, Neil Jordan (Ireland/U.S.).
  • Partir, Catherine Corsini (France).
  • Scheherazade Tell Me a Story, Yousry Nasrallah (Egypt).
  • Solitary Man, Brian Koppelman and David Levien (U.S.)
  • Valhalla Rising, Nicolas Vinding Refn (Denmark/U.K.).
  • Vengeance, Johnnie To (Hong Kong/France).
  • The Vintner's Luck, Niki Caro (New Zealand/France).

Further titles will be announced in the coming weeks, including this year's full Canadian lineup in August.

Matt Damon portrays a questionable FBI witness in Steven Soderbergh's The Informant. ((Courtesy TIFF))

Economy affects festival

Like other arts organizations, the economic downturn has had an effect on the festival, acknowledged director and CEO Piers Handling, but organizers hope it won't be felt by audiences come September.

"Difficult decisions" the festival has made have included adjustments to the budget, shorter contracts for some seasonal employees and making internal cuts, he said.

"It's a considerable challenge for us, but I don't think the audience in any way will be aware of it. It will be exactly the same festival," he said, pointing out that the films being selected this year were largely put into production before the economic downturn.

"I'm very interested to see what 2010 has in store.... Very low budget films will continue to be made, as will really high budget films," Handling said. "A lot of work that traditionally comes to the festival, [mid-range] independent work, a lot of people are really very concerned as to whether that will continue to be financed."

The 2009 Toronto International Film Festival takes place Sept. 10-19.