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Toronto to feature big faces

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Toronto (Reuters): The 31st annual Toronto Film festival will attract more star power than usual this year with Brad Pitt, Russell Crowe, Jennifer Lopez, Reese Witherspoon and Sean Penn among the Oscar winners and Hollywood heavyweights expected to attend. Organisers today said that the 10-day festival, which starts on September 7, will include 352 feature films and shorts from 61 countries and 107 world premieres. The festival has grown in influence over the years and is now seen, along with Cannes, Berlin Sundance, as one of the leading showcases for the movies that will be vying for Oscars and other awards early next year. Actors Liam Neeson, Jude Law, Dustin Hoffman, Peter O'Toole, and Anthony Hopkins are also expected to bolster the festival's celebrity contingent.

Most of the features will be world or North America premieres and many of the films are entered in the hope of finding distributors from the 5,000 industry professionals who will be attending. ''The festival's tentacles are truly in every part of the world,'' said festival director Piers Handling. Among the movies premiering are ''All the King's Men,' starring Penn in a remake of the classic film about the rise and fall of a Southern politician, and German director Werner Herzog's ''Rescue Dawn,'' about an American airman who escapes from a Laotian prison during the Vietnam War.

Also being screened is Ridley Scott's 'A Good Year,'' starring Crowe and Albert Finney about a British businessman who takes a year off in Provence. Red-carpet treatment will be given to ''The Journals of Knud Rasmussen,'' directed by Zacharias Kunuk and Norman Cohn, which will kick off the festival and ''Dixie Chicks: Shut up and Sing,'' one of the more politically-charged offerings. The film focuses on the aftermath and fallout of Dixie Chicks singer Natalie Maines' criticism of U.S. President George W. Bush at a concert in London in 2003.

''The Journals'' is based on the writings of a 1920s Danish ethnographer about the clash of cultures between European Arctic explorers and Inuit natives. ''Not only do our selections have a big impact (on) ... the Oscars and the Golden Globes, but increasingly the biggest directors and stars are coming here to Toronto to introduce their new films to audiences for the first time and to secure distribution,'' said festival co-director Noah Cowan. The festival will include Spike Lee's four-hour documentary ''When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts'' which tells the story of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

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