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Toronto International Film Festival kicks off amid actors and writers strike

Fewer stars and less buzz are expected at this year's Toronto International Film Festival, which kicked off Thursday under the shadow of dual strikes by Hollywood writers and actors.

And as red carpets rolled out around TIFF's downtown headquarters, many questions lingered about how the notoriously celebrity-drenched event would look in a year when many famous people weren't expected to attend.

No screen stars are set to walk the red carpet for several buzzy world premieres, including the Netflix thriller "Reptile" featuring Benicio Del Toro and Justin Timberlake, and Wall Street scandal comedy "Dumb Money" with Seth Rogen, Pete Davidson, and Shailene Woodley.

Another signal of a bumpy start for the 11-day festival -- a technical glitch led to the cancellation of some press and industry screenings at Scotiabank Theatre's Imax screen, including the sci-fi drama "The Beast," and the Korean black comedy "Sleep," cinema staff told The Canadian Press.

But many Torontonians and film buffs were still excited. During the day, people sunbathed in colourful Muskoka chairs along King Street, dubbed Festival Street for the opening weekend, as vendors placed signs outside of food trucks.

Pop-ups handed out free tote bags and slices of pizza to pedestrians and office workers on their lunch break.

A lineup for the festival's opening night film, Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki's feature "The Boy and the Heron," stretched across several blocks.

"If I didn't see anything else at TIFF, I'd still be happy if I saw 'The Boy and the Heron,"' said Damian Vergel from Toronto. "Miyazaki is a legend and the wait will be completely worth it."

Choruses of cheers were heard alongside the red carpet as guests appeared for the premiere. But crowds were sparse and muted compared to the typical groups of young people waiting to catch a glimpse of star power.

Miyazaki, who's in his '80s, was not expected to attend.

More than 200 feature films are packed into this year's program, roughly on par with last year's lineup, and festival CEO Cameron Bailey says ticket sales and interest in the festival are "as strong as ever."

"We're the centre of the film world, and we're proud of that," he saidin an interview before TIFF got underway.

Some Hollywood stars are also expected to make the trek, including Sean Penn, Willem Dafoe and Nicolas Cage, who are part of films that have received waivers from the actors union to participate in the festival. Directors Spike Lee and Pedro Almodovar and Ava DuVernay are also on TIFF's official guest list.

However, expectations for celeb-spotting at premieres and parties remain low as members of the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists and the Writers Guild of America continue a work stoppage that extends to publicity events.

Unions for Hollywood writers and actors are each seeking improved compensation and job protections from labour contracts with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers.

Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, national executive director and chief negotiator of SAG-AFTRA, was among those who walked the red carpet for "The Boy and the Heron."

He wore a shirt that read "SAG-AFTRA On Strike" underneath his blazer and held up a fist while posing for photographers.

Bailey and festival organizers have put significant effort into ensuring the magic of cinema prevails amid dimmed star wattage.

And local business owners like Claudia Rodriguez were happy to see the event continue on as scheduled.

"It's been great for business and for advertising," says the 10-year business owner who was spotted selling churros at a food truck near festival street. "It's going tobe a really big step to be here because this is the international film festival and a lot of people are going to come by and taste some of our churros."

Meanwhile, Eric Malo who works nearby, wandered onto festival street to check out early hubub and expressed reserved expectations about this year's pizzazz.

"I think not as many people are going to show up because they're going to be busy supporting the strike," said Malo.

At the park outside Roy Thomson Hall, where some of the biggest red carpet premieres take place, the usual space for international media made room for a grassy area for fans to gather in front of giant digital screens projecting TIFF moments.

A short walk away, a small stage was set up for free open-air concerts most notably Nickelback who is slated to play Friday to help promote their documentary "Hate to Love: Nickelback," which premieres the same day.

Viral pop singer Lil Nas X is expected to draw a crowd when he walks the red carpet Saturday night for his doc "Lil Nas X: Long Live Montero," while a newly minted Imax version of Talking Heads' concert film "Stop Making Sense" will premiere on Monday as David Byrne's band sits down for a Q-and-A with Lee.

Other titles at the festival include Viggo Mortensen's western drama "The Dead Don't Hurt," Michael Keaton's "Knox Goes Away" and the horror drama "Dream Scenario," starring Cage.

-With files from Jordan Omstead, Tyler Griffin and David Friend

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 7, 2023. Top Stories

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