| LOS ANGELES, Sept 2
LOS ANGELES, Sept 2 As a first-time film
director, television comedian Jon Stewart pleads ignorance about
the workings of the movie industry.
But as he heads to the Toronto International Film Festival
this week, he shares many of the feelings of more seasoned
directors: excitement, nausea and the hope that he has done
justice to the man whose story he depicts in film.
"The Daily Show" host's film is "Rosewater," the real-life
story of journalist Maziar Bahari and his five months of torture
and interrogation in an Iranian prison at the hands of a man who
smells of rosewater.
"I felt like Maziar was really trusting me with something
that was very personal to him," said Stewart. "I have tremendous
affection and respect for the guy and I wanted to do right by
Stewart's debut is one of several highly anticipated
biographical films to feature at the Toronto festival that runs
Sept. 4-14 and is considered the kick-off to a six-month awards
season that concludes with the industry's top honors, the
There is the story of cosmologist Stephen Hawking in "The
Theory of Everything," the portrayal of British World War II
code-breaker Alan Turing in "The Imitation Game," and "Pawn
Sacrifice" about American chess champion Bobby Fischer and his
1972 match against Russian rival Boris Spassky.
In the women's camp, Reese Witherspoon stars in "Wild,"
based on the best-selling memoir of Cheryl Strayed, a
self-destructive woman who treks solo across 1,000 miles (1,600
km) of wilderness.
Biographies are "catnip for the Academy," says Keith
Simanton, managing editor of movie website IMDb.
"We are seeing more biographies that have a really good shot
of ending up being talked about at awards next year and in top
10 lists at the end of the year," said Simanton.
The top award in Toronto, voted by the ordinary people who
attend the multiple screenings of some 300 movies, can give a
film extraordinary momentum to withstand the long season, like
last year's Toronto winner "12 Years a Slave," the drama that
went on to capture the Oscar best picture.
TRIBUTE TO THE OUTSIDER
Toronto prides itself on its role as early arbiter of top
awards and this year decided to tighten rules on its premieres
in hopes of preserving its cachet. If a film chose to go first
to the smaller Telluride Film Festival this past weekend, it
would not screen in the first four days at Toronto, when media
attention is highest.
"Rosewater," "Wild" and "The Imitation Game" all went to
Telluride and received positive reviews.
For "The Imitation Game" director Morten Tyldum, who made
the acclaimed Norwegian 2011 art caper "Headhunters," the
one-two Telluride-Toronto step is "a good way to start and
creates a great awareness of the film."
In his film, Benedict Cumberbatch plays Turing, the
brilliant Cambridge mathematician who headed up the Enigma-code
breaking operation and saved countless lives in World War II,
but was later persecuted by the British government for being
"It is such a big and wonderful and important story," said
Tyldum. "To me it became a tribute to everybody who is
different, who is not really fitting in and who is not following
In another portrayal of a famous Cambridge mind, "The Theory
of Everything" director James Marsh looks at Stephen Hawking
over decades from the perspective of his first wife Jane, as
they fall in love and he is diagnosed with a form of motor
Eddie Redmayne's portrayal of Hawking is already sparking
talk of awards.
"He starts off being able-bodied and then he has to use a
stick and then two sticks and he ends up in a wheelchair," said
Marsh. "He has to get across a range of disabilities and that is
In "Pawn Sacrifice," veteran director Edward Zwick was
captivated by Fischer, an American prodigy who was "unruly,
inappropriate and arrogant," and maybe the most famous person in
the world during "The Match of the Century" in 1972. He is
played by Tobey Maguire while Liev Schreiber is Spassky.
"Even as he was reaching toward the world championship, he
was also fighting this battle against extraordinary demons which
ultimately did him in," said Zwick.
The tough subjects and challenging roles may make 2014 an
even better one for film than the acclaimed 2013.
"I do think this is a richer year and for my money it is
already a better one," said Simanton.
(Editing by Lisa Shumaker)