But as he heads to the Toronto International Film Festival
this week, he shares many of the feelings of more seasoned
directors: excitement, nausea and the hope that he has done
justice to the man whose story he depicts in film.
"The Daily Show" host's film is "Rosewater," the real-life story
of journalist Maziar Bahari and his five months of torture and
interrogation in an Iranian prison at the hands of a man who
smells of rosewater.
"I felt like Maziar was really trusting me with something that
was very personal to him," said Stewart. "I have tremendous
affection and respect for the guy and I wanted to do right by
Stewart's debut is one of several highly anticipated
biographical films to feature at the Toronto festival that runs
Sept. 4-14 and is considered the kick-off to a six-month awards
season that concludes with the industry's top honors, the
There is the story of cosmologist Stephen Hawking in "The Theory
of Everything," the portrayal of British World War II
code-breaker Alan Turing in "The Imitation Game," and "Pawn
Sacrifice" about American chess champion Bobby Fischer and his
1972 match against Russian rival Boris Spassky.
In the women's camp, Reese Witherspoon stars in "Wild," based on
the best-selling memoir of Cheryl Strayed, a self-destructive
woman who treks solo across 1,000 miles (1,600 km) of
Biographies are "catnip for the Academy," says Keith Simanton,
managing editor of movie website IMDb.
"We are seeing more biographies that have a really good shot of
ending up being talked about at awards next year and in top 10
lists at the end of the year," said Simanton.
The top award in Toronto, voted by the ordinary people who
attend the multiple screenings of some 300 movies, can give a
film extraordinary momentum to withstand the long season, like
last year's Toronto winner "12 Years a Slave," the drama that
went on to capture the Oscar best picture.
TRIBUTE TO THE OUTSIDER
Toronto prides itself on its role as early arbiter of top awards
and this year decided to tighten rules on its premieres in hopes
of preserving its cachet. If a film chose to go first to the
smaller Telluride Film Festival this past weekend, it would not
screen in the first four days at Toronto, when media attention
"Rosewater," "Wild" and "The Imitation Game" all went to
Telluride and received positive reviews.
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For "The Imitation Game" director Morten Tyldum, who made the
acclaimed Norwegian 2011 art caper "Headhunters," the one-two
Telluride-Toronto step is "a good way to start and creates a great
awareness of the film."
In his film, Benedict Cumberbatch plays Turing, the brilliant
Cambridge mathematician who headed up the Enigma-code breaking
operation and saved countless lives in World War II, but was later
persecuted by the British government for being homosexual.
"It is such a big and wonderful and important story," said Tyldum.
"To me it became a tribute to everybody who is different, who is not
really fitting in and who is not following the norm."
In another portrayal of a famous Cambridge mind, "The Theory of
Everything" director James Marsh looks at Stephen Hawking over
decades from the perspective of his first wife Jane, as they fall in
love and he is diagnosed with a form of motor neuron disease.
Eddie Redmayne's portrayal of Hawking is already sparking talk of
"He starts off being able-bodied and then he has to use a stick and
then two sticks and he ends up in a wheelchair," said Marsh. "He has
to get across a range of disabilities and that is extraordinarily
In "Pawn Sacrifice," veteran director Edward Zwick was captivated by
Fischer, an American prodigy who was "unruly, inappropriate and
arrogant," and maybe the most famous person in the world during "The
Match of the Century" in 1972. He is played by Tobey Maguire while
Liev Schreiber is Spassky.
"Even as he was reaching toward the world championship, he was also
fighting this battle against extraordinary demons which ultimately
did him in," said Zwick.
The tough subjects and challenging roles may make 2014 an even
better one for film than the acclaimed 2013.
"I do think this is a richer year and for my money it is already a
better one," said Simanton.
(Editing by Lisa Shumaker)
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