Politics takes spotlight at Toronto film festival

TORONTO (Reuters) - Political and religious conflict and humanitarian crisis were portrayed in several movies at the Toronto film festival on Sunday including “Elizabeth: The Golden Age” that premieres on Sunday night.

Cate Blanchett poses during a news conference for the movie "Elizabeth: The Golden Age" during the 32nd Toronto International Film Festival September 9, 2007. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

Along with that film, acerbic comedians Bill Maher and Larry Charles showed clips of the upcoming documentary “Religulous,” which jabs a comedic skewer at mainstream religion. Hollywood star Don Cheadle showed “Darfur Now,” a chronicle of six people involved in the conflict in western Sudan in which at least 200,000 people have died.

The movies focus on what organizers of the Toronto International Film Festival have touted as the serious, contemporary edge of many of the movies here -- even “Elizabeth” about England’s 16th Century Queen Elizabeth I.

The film stars Cate Blanchett as the queen who dealt with treachery in her court and conflict between Protestants and Catholics during her reign.

Speaking at a news conference, Blanchett said today’s leaders could learn to be a little more tolerant.

“The way she navigated the Protestant-Catholic conundrum was pretty incredible,” said Blanchett. “She was incredibly religiously tolerant for a time where people weren’t.”

It is the second time Blanchett has donned the crown of Elizabeth I. The first was in 1998’s “Elizabeth,” which earned her an Oscar nomination for best actress, and anticipation is running high she may win this time around.

But coming out of the theater, talk was less about Oscar and more about how the movie speaks to today’s times as Islamic militants clash with Western countries over ideology.


“There’s no point in making a movie unless it’s contemporary to our times,” said director Shekhar Kapur. “Fundamentalism and post-9/11 issues that face us so clearly right now -- it was a deliberate choice to make it like that.”

On a more light-hearted, but nonetheless serious, note stand-up comedian Maher and former “Seinfeld” producer Larry Charles showed clips of “Religulous” to a sold-out audience.

The film, whose title is a combination of “religious” and “ridiculous,” was spawned from Maher’s often religious-themed comedy. It takes a critical look at the roots of Christianity, Judaism and Islam, and the effect they have on everyday lives, and on political leaders’ decisions and actions.

“The things you have heard about religion are patently absurd and silly, and ultimately very funny,” Charles told Reuters when asked about the film’s message.

The film has the feel of a Michael Moore documentary but with a sharp edge courtesy of Maher’s irreverent and often profane interview style.

In fact, among the film’s interviews with religious leaders and scholars, more than one was cut short by appalled publicists, as Maher and Charles point out contradictions and absurdities in religious texts and belief structures.

Finally, Cheadle, who since his Oscar-nominated turn in genocide film “Hotel Rwanda” has placed the spotlight on the war-torn Darfur region of Sudan, promoted “Darfur Now” at the festival

The documentary follows an activist, aid worker and lawyer charged with persecuting criminals in the region, who all have taken up the challenge to help stop the murder and displacement of African people in the war-torn region.