TORONTO, (AFP) - Double Oscar-winner Denzel Washington and a motley band of gunslingers open the Toronto film festival Thursday, blazing trails in a much-anticipated remake of the 1960 Western The Magnificent Seven. The film festival, which runs through Sep 18, is the largest in North America and has become a launchpad for Oscar-conscious studios and distributors, attracting hundreds of filmmakers and actors to the red carpet in Canada's largest city.
Nearly 400 feature and short films from 83 countries will be screened at the festival.
Director Antoine Fuqua's film is a reimagining of the Western classic starring Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen and Charles Bronson - which in turn was a remake of Akira Kurosawa's Japanese-language epic Seven Samurai. In the latest version, Washington plays bounty hunter Sam Chisolm who leads his crew to liberate a Wild West town from the clutches of a bad man (an industrialist played by Peter Sarsgaard, who also appears at the festival in Jackie) and his private army of henchmen.
While initially motivated by cash offered up by townswoman Emma Cullen (played by Haley Bennett), these swashbucklers end up taking a principled stand against greed and hegemony to save the fledgling town.
Fuqua told AFP during post-production in April that he also hoped to dispel the mythology of the American frontier propagated by Hollywood, that it was populated by ranchers, lawmen and outlaws battling for money or land on behalf of White America.
The real Wild West's racial makeup was actually a melting pot of Europeans, Chinese, Mexicans, Native American and blacks.
"Westerns have always spoken directly to what is going on in present day America even though it's dealing with its history," Toronto film festival co-director Piers Handling told AFP.
"This one certainly speaks to contemporary America. It's is an interesting metaphor for what's going on in American right now," he said.
"It's about a community under duress, under extreme pressure, and the people that come together to defend this community who are representative of American society." The action-packed film also stars Chris Pratt as a card shark and explosives enthusiast, Ethan Hawke (also at the festival in Maudie) as a sharpshooter, Vincent D'Onofrio in the role of a tracker, and South Korea's Lee Byung-hun as a knife-throwing assassin.
Washington and Fuqua have collaborated previously, notably on Training Day, which also premiered at the Toronto film festival and went on to earn Washington a best actor Oscar in 2001 for his performance as a rogue cop in Los Angeles. (Washington earned his first Oscar in 1990 for his supporting role in the civil war drama Glory.) They also paired up in 2014 for Fuqua's adaptation of the 1980s television series The Equalizer, about a loner who dispenses justice from the barrel of a gun. The film earned mediocre reviews and nearly US$200 million (S$270.2 million) at the box office.
Toronto this year shines a spotlight on American politics, youth radicalisation, racism, feminism and alien arrivals, as well as questions around race.
Films being positioned for accolades include the new Denis Villeneuve sci-fi movie Arrival, and Oliver Stone's Snowden about former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden's massive 2013 leak revealing the extent of government snooping on private data.
Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone's performances as a jazz musician and an aspiring actress in the bewitching musical La La Land, which opened the Venice film festival, has also stirred up a frenzy.
American Pastoral, Ewan McGregor's directorial debut looking back at an ideal family torn by the upheavals of the 1960s, is generating tremendous buzz, as is Lion - the true story of a boy separated from his family who goes searching for home 25 years on.