This week I'm giving control of the column over to Stranger critic Shannon Gee, who was just at the Toronto International Film Festival. --Andy

While Andy was off on a film shoot in Centralia, Washington, I was in Toronto attending their international film festival. TIFF is, like most festivals, unrelenting (four to five films a day); but unlike many, it is polite and blooper-free (that's the Canadian part). I know this column is supposed to be about local films and venues, and I hate to report that there weren't any high-profile projects out of our talented little part of the world, but it wasn't a total loss. The Year of the Yao, a fun documentary about NBA superstar Yao Ming's remarkable first year with the Houston Rockets, features Yao's first Thanksgiving at our own W Hotel. Then, Danny Boyle's exuberant entry Millions had its lively original score performed by no less than the Seattle Symphony Orchestra and the Northwest Boychoir, and was recorded at Belltown's Studio X. We might not have a "directed by" or "produced by" credit to brag about (wait, I guess we could count Jim Taylor's "written by" credit for the upcoming Sideways), but there are plenty of local folks and organizations that play a crucial role in movies that hit the world film circuit--and first Thanksgivings.

The great thing about Toronto is how it calmly presents the hits from Cannes (House of Flying Daggers? Beautiful! Maggie Cheung in Oliver Assayas' Clean? Terrific!) as well as the season's upcoming slate. Bigger releases like Ray, I Heart Huckabees, Shark Tale, and Beyond the Sea get their red-carpet treatment and full court press junkets. (Quick reviews: Ray: Jamie Foxx is pretty good; the film is pretty long. Sideways: banal, yet BOFFO! Huckabees: first half, awesome, second half, ehh.) Smaller films also get a great showcase to generate word of mouth and convince distributors and theaters near you to run them. Beloved filmmakers Hou Hsiao-hsien and Ousmane Sembene both had lovely and remarkable films in the festival (Café Lumière and Moolaadé, respectively), and thanks to the Northwest Film Forum, who programmed retrospectives of these international masters in past years, we've got a taste for them. Will Seattle get to see them? New Yorker Films is handling Sembene's film, so we'll probably get it here at some point. Hou? By the time I left, his film had not been picked up.

Walkouts during screenings often equals buzz, and from what I hear the top prize goes to Lukas Moodysson's A Hole in My Heart, a hard-to-stomach tale of amateur pornographers gone awry. I didn't see it, but since it secured distribution I guess I'll get a second chance. I'll also get a lot of first chances come spring, when the SIFF is sure to have a lot of the films (Takashi Miike's Zebraman, the Chinese film The World, FranŸois Ozon's 5 x 2, and the edgy coming-of-age film My Summer of Love) that I missed.

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