Since its unveiling in 1976, the Toronto International Film Festival has become one of the most important cinematic events in the world. Regarded by Hollywood A-listers and critics alike as the ideal venue to premiere films, the festival has become the paramount film showcase in North America, boasting a bevy of stars, as well as healthy sampling of the best in contemporary North American and international cinema.
Here's JAM's recap of the past 31 years:
1976 - The first programme consists of 140 films from 30 countries, including entries by young independent filmmakers like Martha Coolidge. Galas screenings feature several prestigious films including "Cousin, Cousine," Jeanne Moreau's "Lumiere," Akira Kurosawa's "Dersu Uzala" and Francesco Rosi's "Illustrious Corpses."
1977 - A tremendous "buzz" surrounds Canadian director Richard Benner's "Outrageous." The film would go on to become one of the most successful Canadian films to date.
1978 - Consummate showman Wayne Clarkson becomes the Festival's Director.
1979 - Robin Wood and Richard Lippe organize a large, influential retrospective on American horror movies; among the guests are Brian De Palma (who continues to attend the festival yearly) and George Romero.
1979 - The Festival has one of its first major homegrown hits - "Best Boy." Ira Wohl's documentary later goes on to win an Academy Award.
1980 - The Festival gains enough credibility to lure one of the most revered filmmakers in the history of cinema - Jean-Luc Godard - to attend a retrospective held in his honour. Orchestrated and organized by film scholar and Festival programmer Peter Harcourt, the presence of Godard in Toronto helps prove that Toronto is a force to be reckoned with on the international festival circuit.
1981 - Festival patrons embrace "Chariots Of Fire" and help the British film win the Best Picture Academy Award.
1982 - The Festival pays tribute to Martin Scorsese and welcomes Scorsese, Robert De Niro, Robert Duvall and Harvey Keitel to help celebrate.
1983 - The Festival unveils "The Big Chill" and shines a spotlight on writer-director, Lawrence Kasdan. Attendees also get a glimpse of Paul Verhoeven's work.
1984 - The Festival solidifies its commitment to Canadian film with the creation of Perspective Canada, a section of the Festival devoted exclusively to Canadian film.
1985 - Sandy Wilson's "My American Cousin" opens Perspective Canada, proving once and for all the Festival's value in promoting and marketing Canadian films. Subsequent Perspective Canada discoveries include Atom Egoyan, Bruce MacDonald, Ron Mann, Lynne Stopkewich, Mina Shum, Don McKellar, Francois Girard, La Pool, Janis Lundman and Adrienne Mitchell, Anne Wheeler, Anne Marie McDonald, Patricia Rozema, Ann Marie Fleming, Mike Hoolboom and John Pozer - to name just a few.
1986 - The Festival helps make Denys Arcand's "Declin De L'Empire Americain" one of the highest grossing films in Canadian history (a sequel, "The Barbarian Invasions," was released in 2004) - and helps launch Bertrand Tavernier's "'Round Midnight" and Jim Jarmusch's "Down By Law" internationally.
1987 - Helga Stephenson takes over as Director of the Festival, enticing some of the biggest stars and most acclaimed directors in the world to Toronto yet. Everyone from Diane Keaton to Norman Mailer, Paul Newman to James Earl Jones, Hanif Kureishi to William Goldman show up this year. But that's not all. North American audiences get their first taste of an unheard of young Spanish filmmaker named Pedro Almodovar and a young director who specialized in frenzied action films - John Woo. The Festival also helps establish Rob Reiner. "The Princess Bride's" popularity in Toronto helps pave the way for the film's subsequent commercial success.
1988 - Almodovar' love affair with Toronto hits full stride with his kinetic comedy, "Women On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown," which goes on to garner an Academy Award nomination. Midnight Madness, the Festival's popular late-night tour of the bizarre and profane, is introduced.
1989 - In another years of firsts, actors like Matt Dillon and Bruce Willis provide the star power when people aren't gazing at notable films from Gus Van Sant and Joel Coen. An oddball documentary named "Roger And Me" introduces audiences to a little-known upstart filmmaker named Michael Moore.
1990 - The Festival solidifies its place as a launching pad for Oscar gold as Jeremy Irons goes on to win a Best Actor Academy Award for Barbet Schroeder's "Reversal Of Fortune." Audiences also get their first look at Jane Campion, whose "Angel At My Table" ends up taking home the International Critics' Prize. And fresh from his Cannes nomination, Clint Eastwood brings his "White Hunter, Black Heart" to Toronto for its North American premiere.
1991 - The Gala list includes the latest from a slew of Festival veterans: the Coen Brothers' "Barton Fink," Zhang Yimou's "Raise The Red Latern," Gus Van Sant's "My Own Private Idaho" and Terry Gilliam's "The Fisher King." Audiences also get a peak at Jodie Foster's directorial debut, "Little Man Tate."
1992 - The Festival provides a glimpse of several of the most important young independent filmmakers to emerge in the '90s, showcasing Robert Rodriguez ("El Mariachi"); Baz Luhrmann ("Strictly Ballroom," winner of the Audience Award); Nick Gomez ("Laws Of Gravity"); Peter Jackson ("Braindead"); and a former video clerk named Quentin Tarantino whose "Reservoir Dogs" wins the FIPRESCI Prize for Best First Feature Film. One of Hollywood's most talked about movies in many years - Neil Jordan's Oscar-winning indie smash, "The Crying Game" - also debuts this year.
1993 - After its debut in Toronto, Jane Campion's "The Piano" picks up some critical steam and takes home an Academy Award. Robert DeNiro takes a directorial bow with "A Bronx Tale."
1994 - It's a goldmine of discoveries. Art house hit "Muriel's Wedding;" Peter Jackson's shocking "Heavenly Creatures;" a harrowing domestic drama from New Zealand called "Once Were Warriors;" and Antonia Bird's "Priest," all play to packed houses. Atom Egoyan wins his third Toronto City Award for Best Canadian Feature for "Exotica."
1995 - 1995 proves to be a banner year, opening with Robert Lepage's daring "Le Confessionnal" and closing with Carl Franklin's noir thriller, "Devil In A Blue Dress." In between, the Festival unveils Mike Figgis' chilling "Leaving Las Vegas," featuring career-making performances by Nicolas Cage and Elisabeth Shue, and shines a light on Jack Nicholson and Angelica Houston in Sean Penn's searing drama, "The Crossing Guard."
1996 - The guest list reads as a who's who of cinema, including everyone from Jean-Luc Godard to Cher, Angelica Huston to Mira Nair, Patrice Leconte to Albert Brooks, Debbie Reynolds to Dario Argento. The Festival offers advance looks at Oscar-nominees like "Breaking The Waves," and "Shine," for which lead, Geoffrey Rush, won the Best Actor Academy Award. Audiences also get their first peak at Vince Vaughn and Jon Favreau in Doug Liman's "Swingers," and give Tom Hanks' and Kevin Spacey's directorial debuts, "That Thing You Do" and "Albino Alligator" the thumbs up.
1997 - Paul Thomas Anderson's "Boogie Nights" captures audiences' attention, while Atom Egoyan's "The Sweet Hereafter" nets the Canadian an Academy Award nomination for Best Director. The star-studded "LA Confidential" is late getting started after some of the film's many stars are late in arriving at Roy Thomson Hall for its premiere, while Brad Pitt's "Seven Years In Tibet" closes the 10-day event in typical star-studded fashion.
1998 - The Festival opens with Francois Girard's "The Red Violin," which goes on to become the second highest-grossing domestically produced film in Canada. Tom Cruise, Meryl Streep, Jenifer Lopez, Ben Stiller and Cameron Diaz are among those in attendance. Breakout hits like Roberto Benigni's "Life Is Beautiful," Walter Salles' "Central Station," Shekar Kapur's "Elizabeth," Tom Tykwer's "Run Lola Run" and Todd Solondz's "Happiness," continue to cement the Festival's reputation for attracting both big-name Hollywood talent and up-and-coming filmmakers.
1999 - Festival-goers are treated to an Academy Award preview. The line-up features future nominees "American Beauty," "The Cider House Rules," "Sweet And Lowdown," "East-West," "TUMBLEWEEDS," "The Music Of The Heart," "Boys Don't Cry," "Snow Falling On Cedars," "Caravan," "When The Day Breaks," and "The Hurricane." There are also discoveries, like the Elton John-produced, "Women Talking Dirty," and Alan Rudolph's adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut's "Breakfast Of Champions," starring Bruce Willis.
2000 - Audiences are treated to Cameron Crowe's life as a teenage rock critic in "Almost Famous;" Joan Allen's Academy Award-nominated performance in Rod Lurie's "The Contender;" Christopher Guest's "Best In Show," a sharp-witted satire about thoroughbred dogs and the people who love them; Jonathan Glazer's gritty gangster film "Sexy Beast;" and Francois Ozon's tender "Sous Le Sable."
2001 - Although its star-power was understandably dimmed in the wake of the events of September 11th, the Festival still managed to present Academy Award winners like Danis Tanovic's "No Man's Land" (Best Foreign Language Film) and Antoine Fuqua's "Training Day" (with Best Actor Denzel Washington). In addition, David Lynch's "Mulholland Drive" managed to confound audiences, while the Hughes brothers' "From Hell" helped solidify Johnny Depp as his generation's best actor.
2002 - The Festival commemorates the September 11 tragedy with two special Gala screenings: "The Guys," directed by Jim Simpson, starring Sigourney Weaver and Anthony LaPaglia, and "09'11"01," an ambitious project with contributions from Sean Penn, Ken Loach, Mira Nair, Youssef Chahine, Danis Tanovic, Samira Makhmalbaf, Inarritu and Idrissa Ouedraogo. The Festival is bookended by Atom Egoyan's powerful drama about the Armenian genocide, "Ararat," and Brian De Palma's stylish thriller, "Femme Fatale." In between, audiences get to watch Colin Farrell sweat in Joel Schumacher's "Phone Booth;" catch Denzel Washington's directorial debut, "Antwone Fisher;" Emilio Martinez-Lazaro's "The Other Side Of The Bed;" and Patrice Leconte's "L'Homme Du Train." Among the films eventually nominated for Academy Awards are: Pedro Almodovar's "Talk To Her," Michael Moore's "Bowling For Columbine," Julie Taymor's "Frida," Todd Haynes' "Far From Heaven," Jeff Blitz's "Spellbound," Phillip Noyce's "The Quiet American," Aki Kaurismaeki's "The Man Without A Past" and Caroline Link's "Nowhere In Africa."
2003 - Highlights include premieres of such Academy Award-nominated films as Mikael Hafstroem's "Evil" and Alejandro Gonzalez IZarritu's "21 Grams" (both Naomi Watts and Benicio del Toro are nominated for their jaw-dropping performances); and winners like Sofia Coppola's "Lost In Translation" (which goes on to win the Academy Award for best screenplay) and Denys Arcand's "Les Invasions Barbares" (Academy Award-winner for best foreign language film), which opens the Festival. Other break out hits included "Baadasssss!" (formerly "How To Get The Man's Foot Outta Your Ass"), Mario van Peebles's look at his father's struggle to make films in the sixties (which opens the Planet Africa programme); the Michael Moore-influenced "The Corporation" and Ron Mann's Go Further;" which featured Woody Harrelson.
2004 - 2004 sees the Festival entrench its position the starting gate for the Oscar race and the most important place to be discovered. Opening with Annette Bening's "Being Julia" (yes her husband Warren Beatty did attend the screening with her) and closing with Martin Short's Jiminy Glick in Lalawood, the Festival reads as a practical checklist for that year's awards season. 2005 Best Picture Academy Award-winner, "Crash," resonates with its deeply-felt meditation on racism, hope and redemption. The film is embraced critically at its world premiere screening and goes on to become one of the most successful independent American film releases of all time. "Downfall," a German-made exploration of Hitler's final days, chooses to premiere in Toronto before any German audiences or media have seen the film; the result is a smashing success, with the film eventually nominated for a best Foreign Language Film Oscar and a massive box office hit in Germany. The Festival's impact on the Oscars and other awards in 2004 cannot be overstated. "Hotel Rwanda," Terry George's harrowing portrait of heroism in the face of mass slaughter, becomes a front-runner after a massive standing ovation at the Elgin Theatre. "Sideways," Alexander Payne's touching gallop through California wine country takes a front-and-centre spot in year-end consideration after its electrifying press screening reaction. Other Oscar contenders, such as Bill Condon's luminous biopic "Kinsey" and Taylor Hackford's vibrant "Ray" see audiences for the first time in Toronto. After taking home Academy Awards in the previous year, Charlize Theron and Sean Penn use the Festival to help launch the smaller, "Head In The Clouds" and "The Assasination of Richard Nixon," while Kevin Spacey brings his story of "Mack The Knife" singer Bobby Darrin to the Festival when he premieres, "Beyond The Sea."
2005 - Following in the footsteps of years previous, 2005 cobbles together a galaxy of stars and top name directors alike. Tim Burton manages to steal Johnny Depp away from the set of "Pirates Of The Carribean 2" for his animated "Corpse Bride," while "Pirates" castmates Keira Knightley Orlando Bloom dock into Toronto for her "Pride & Prejudice" and his "Elizabethtown" respectively. Embracing producers' decision to nix him in the next James Bond film, Pierce Brosnan joins Greg Kinnear for "The Matador." Keanu Reeves proves he's got Matrix-like acting moves when he ditches the action for Mike Mills' touching "Thumbsucker." An anxious Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Whitherspoon bring Johnny Cash's life to the big screen in "Walk The Line." And after taking home the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival, Ang Lee's "Brokeback Mountain" ends up ratcheting up thunderous critical applause, netting the director his first Oscar. In keeping with spirit of discovery, the 10-day event closes with the acting debut of Justin Timberlake in the crime-drama "Edison."
-- with files from TIFF