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Recession hits Toronto film festival, filmmakers

 Toronto International Film Festival Director and Chief Executive Officer Piers Handling looks over the final programme for the 30th annual festival at a Nathan Phillips Square press conference in Toronto, August 23, 2005. REUTERS/Mike Cassese - Reuters
Toronto International Film Festival Director and Chief Executive Officer Piers Handling looks over the final programme for the 30th annual festival at a Nathan Phillips Square press conference in Toronto, August 23, 2005. REUTERS/Mike Cassese
— image credit: Reuters

By John McCrank

TORONTO (Reuters) - The effects of the global recession are forcing big cutbacks in the world of film and could also hamper independent filmmaking for years to come, organizers of the Toronto International Film Festival said on Tuesday.

Festival chief executive Piers Handling said sponsorship funding is down from previous years, meaning cuts to travel and entertainment budgets.

"We've actually had to make some very, very hard decisions, some very difficult decisions," Handling told a news conference announcing some of the top movies. "We literally looked at every single part of the organization, every facet, and we tried to squeeze every single piece of money."

But Handling said the stars will still show up at the premiere-studded 10-day event, which starts on September 10, and the internal cuts would likely not be obvious to audiences.

He hoped the same number of international stars and filmmakers would attend.

Last year, more than 500 stars and special guests attended the festival, which showed over 300 features and short films.

The organizers broke with tradition this year, picking a British film to open the festival, rather than a Canadian selection.

"Creation" tells of Charles Darwin and his struggle to bring the idea of evolution into a world still rooted in faith. It stars real-life husband and wife Paul Bettany and Jennifer Connelly as Mr. and Mrs. Darwin, and pits them on opposite sides of the divide between reason and faith.

"We fell in love with this movie and this is the one we felt really sets the tone for the conversations we hope will happen around the films at the festival," said festival co-director Cameron Bailey.

The films showing this year were in production before the global recession hit and the organizers had plenty to choose from. But Handling said that is about to change as funding dries up for mid-sized productions in the $5 million to $30 million range.

"It's those smaller, more personal works by filmmakers in mid-career ... established film makers. They are having a tough time right now funding their projects for next year," he told Reuters.

The recession is not hitting blockbuster movies and low budget works as hard, he said.

($1=$1.14 Canadian)

(Reporting by John McCrank; editing by Janet Guttsman)

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