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So many films, so little time

I have before me a schedule of the 2007 Toronto Film Festival, which opens Thursday and runs 10 days. I have been looking at it for some time. I am paralyzed. There are so many films by important directors (not to mention important films by unknown directors), that it cannot be reduced to its highlights. The highlights alone, if run in alphabetical order, would take up all my space.

Let me just drop a few names: Eric Rohmer, Carlos Saura, Claude Chabrol, Takeshi Kitano, Ken Loach, Ermanno Olmi, Hector Babenco, Jacques Rivette, Wayne Wang, Takeshi Kitano, Volker Schlondorff, Hou Hsiao-hsien, and Portugal's legendary Manoel De Oliveira, who at 99 is probably the oldest director still at work, but with a festival this large, you can't be sure. Well, yes you can.

Hold on, hold on. I just gave you the wrong list. That's the list of the "Masters" section of the festival, devoted to established directorial superstars. I should have started with the "Gala Presentations," the big premieres held nightly.

OK, here goes: David Cronenberg, Kenneth Branagh, Shekhar Kapur, Julie Taymor, Gavin Hood, Woody Allen, Renny Harlin, Denys Arcand, Paul Schrader, and Richard Attenborough. Those are less than half of the Gala directors. The rest are famous to me but maybe not yet to you.

But then again, how about the Special Presentations of films by Sidney Lumet, Neil Jordan, Michael Moore, Gillian Armstrong, John Sayles, Todd Haynes, Paul Haggis, Sean Penn, Ang Lee, Johnnie To, Jonathan Demme, Noah Baumbach, Guy Maddin, Peter Greenaway, The Coens, Takeshi Kitano, Brian DePalma, Julian Schnabel and Roger Spottiswoode.

Or the Vanguard, "who run ahead of the pack." Gael Garcia Bernal. Harmony Korine. Gus Van Sant. Gregg Araki. Or Midnight Madness with Stuart Gordon, Dario Argento and George Romero. Or Dialogues: Talking with Pictures, as filmmakers discuss films they made or love (Scorsese on his "Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore," Max von Sydow on Bergman's "The Virgin Spring," Sidney Lumet on Wyler's "The Best Years of Our Lives"). Or Contemporary World Cinema, with Ramin Bahrani showing his new film after "Man Push Cart," David Schwimmer with "Run, Fat Boy, Run" and hand-held documentarian Nick Broomfield's film about an alleged U.S. massacre of Iraqi citizens.

This is impossible. I have given you a list of names, and if you are a serious movie lover you know many of them, but Toronto is so much larger than that: 271 features, 352 films including shorts, 85 percent world premieres, 91 percent North American premieres ...

I was looking though some old files the other day, and found an article of moderate length from the 1970s in which I was able to list and describe most of the interesting films at Toronto. These days, it's necessary to simply describe the enormity of the festival itself. It is the largest and most important in North America, and to Hollywood is now more important than Cannes (although Hollywood films are only a small percentage of the whole festival). There will be more than 500 guests appearing with their films, more than 1,000 journalists, reps from every distributor, programmers from every other festival.

And you? Toronto is an open, not a private festival, which means a member of the general public stands a fair chance of getting in. Some tickets are actually still on sale. Go to www.tiff07.ca, click on Buy Now, and see what's left. Most of the films are sold out, but year after year I find treasures in the sidebar sections, especially "Discoveries."

It is also possible to take your chances on a "rush line," where they hand you a number, and at the last minute they admit as many people in line as there are empty seats inside. Considering that the films with the highest profiles are shown in the huge Roy Thomson Hall, the Eglin theater or the Visa Screening Room, your chances will be fair to middling. Also, it is not unheard of to come across someone outside a theater trying to unload a ticket, although of course that would be wrong.

Say you don't make it into your movie at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday. The Toronto climate is glorious in September, and it is a city vibrating with restaurants, cafes, shops, theaters, concerts, bookstores and actual movie theaters selling tickets to current attractions. And the festival itself attracts exciting street life around the main projection centers and up and down Yorkville, Yonge, Bloor, King and Queen streets. You would have to be very determined to have a bad time in Toronto, and it's just not worth the effort.

I feel guilty. I have seen a dozen or more of this year's entries (they screen some titles in advance for critics in big cities), and I could name you some masterpieces. But that would leave out hundreds of other films, many of them maybe just as good. Descriptions of every film are online, and if you search the Toronto online newspaper sites you will find that all the papers, mainstream and alternative, have had critics previewing films for weeks and cover the festival the way the Sun-Times would cover a Cubs-White Sox World Series. Meanwhile, in my own columns from the festival, I will be balancing between ecstasy and the suspicion that I have just missed the best film in years.

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