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Controversy flourishes at Toronto film fest

Michael Moore's latest, along with a spotlight on films from Tel Aviv, brings out the protesters, while others swoon over Clooney.

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What the protesters miss is the fact that many of the most celebrated Israeli movies – last year's "Waltzing With Bashir," for example, or, reportedly, "Lebanon," which screened in Toronto after just winning the top prize in Venice – are far from doctrinaire and are among the most riven and politically complex in the world. Then, too, one wonders why no protests were launched in Toronto for films from such egalitarian regimes as, say, Iran or China?

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In any case, the dust-up was good theater, with dozens of celebrity attendees, or their sympathizers, taking sides: In this corner, protesting City to City, we have Jane Fonda, Harry Belafonte, Danny Glover, Julie Christie, and Viggo Mortensen (who compounded the outrage by sporting a Montreal Canadiens hockey jersey in Toronto Maple Leaf country). In the far corner: Jerry Seinfeld, Jon Voight (Fonda's costar in "Coming Home"), Sacha Baron Cohen, and Oprah Winfrey – who was in town because she was executive producer for the film "Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire" and who created a commotion in the streets bested only by the occasional drive-by appearances of the Jonas Brothers.

I don't want to make the Toronto festival sound like an ideological battlefield. I have, after all, seen 18 movies in six days, most of them no more "controversial" than Drew Barrymore's roller derby romp "Whip It." But it would be remiss before I leave this realm not to mention the appearance of Daniel Ellsberg, now 78, at the screening for a fascinating if hagiographic documentary about him called, "The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers." Speaking of Vietnam, Ellsberg says in the film: "It is not just that we were on the wrong side. We were the wrong side." In Toronto, in interviews, he speaks of "the striking correspondence between what happened back then and what is happening in Afghanistan right now."