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Film fest marks terror attacks that stranded stars

The Sept. 11 attacks left a lot of Hollywood types stranded north of the border at the Toronto International Film Festival. This year, organizers have produced a short film to mark the 10th anniversary of the tragedy.
/ Source: The Associated Press

The Sept. 11 attacks left a lot of Hollywood types stranded north of the border at the Toronto International Film Festival. This year, organizers have produced a short film to mark the 10th anniversary of the tragedy.

The four-minute film featuring recollections from festival bosses and filmmakers will show before every screening Sunday, the 10-year anniversary of the attacks. The short film will run in place of the sponsor reels that usually precede festival screenings.

"It really looks back on what that was like, this very strange environment of a film festival that's all about celebrating art and having fun, then to have this horrific event happen on that day," said festival co-director Cameron Bailey.

Also marking the anniversary is the Paul McCartney documentary "The Love We Make," which chronicles the former Beatle's preparations for a memorial concert in New York City a month after the attacks. McCartney had been on a plane at New York's JFK airport waiting to fly to London when the attacks happened, and from the tarmac, he could see smoke billowing out of the World Trade Center towers.

Premiering Friday, a day before it begins airing on Showtime, the film features footage of McCartney rehearsing such Beatles hits as "Yesterday" and "Let It Be" and interview segments in which he recalls how his parents' generation relied on music to get through the adversity of World War II.

The festival shut down for the rest of the day after the attacks, canceling all films and other events. Stars and filmmakers in Toronto to promote their movies abandoned their interview schedules, holing up in their suites to watch the news on TV or milling about their luxury hotels to share information and commiserate with those trying to get word from loved ones in New York City.

Organizers considered calling off the rest of the festival, which was only halfway through and scheduled to run five more days through the following weekend. But they felt it would be best to carry on, yet in a subdued manner.

"We decided we would continue the festival, but continue in a very different kind of way," said festival director Piers Handling. "We rolled up the red carpets, canceled the parties, canceled the sponsor announcements. We took the partying out of it."

With planes grounded for days and the U.S.-Canadian border closed off and on after the attacks, stars, filmmakers, studio executives and others at the festival had to make alternative travel plans. They rented cars and chartered buses to get home, while others who had films playing the second half of the festival never made it to Toronto.

Canadian actress and filmmaker Sarah Polley, who lives in Toronto, was at the festival in 2001 with a short film she directed. After the attacks, she pitched in to ease the spirits of some of the people stranded in Toronto.

"We had over all of the Americans we knew, my brother and I, to have dinner and be together and hang out and watch TV, because everyone was kind of alone in hotel rooms and freaking out," said Polley, who is at the festival again this time with "Take This Waltz," the second feature film she has directed.

Tom Bernard, co-president of Sony Pictures Classics, immediately abandoned his festival plans and strategized how he could get home to New York City.

"I called Hertz, rented a car with U.S. plates, bought a Toronto Maple Leafs T-shirt and a hockey stick," said Bernard, who figured he might be able to cross into the United States on an Indian reservation that straddles the border between Canada and New York state.

It worked. The Customs agent saw his T-shirt, "asked me how the Leafs were doing and let me through," Bernard said. "You just felt like you had to get back. You've got family, all the people in the office. It was a bad time."

Many Hollywood insiders were at a press and industry screening of Mira Nair's "Monsoon Wedding" the morning of Sept. 11. They walked out of that joyous, uplifting film into a changed world two hours after the attacks happened, hearing the scream of emergency vehicle sirens as Toronto authorities went on alert with the rest of North America.

According to Bailey, in the festival's Sept. 11 short film, Nair recollects how "Monsoon Wedding" was one of the first to show again when organizers resumed screenings the day after the attacks.

"The story she tells is how scary it was to walk in on Sept. 12 thinking, is anybody even going to be there?" Bailey said. "And in fact, it was packed. People just seemed to want to come together."