By Susan O'Neill Posted September 5, 2008, 5:15 PM EDT
TORONTO Eight soldiers dressed in combat gear, a Leopard 1 tank, and a Coyote reconnaissance vehicle, courtesy of the Department of National Defence, flanked either side of the red carpet at the entrance to the Liberty Grand last night for the Toronto International Film Festival's (TIFF) opening night gala. The party, which attracted more than 3,000 guests, paid tribute to Paul Gross' World War I film Passchendaele, selected to open the festival, which runs until September 13.
Event planner Barbara Hershenhorn of Party Barbara Co. worked with Captain Cat Haylock, a public affairs operations officer with the Department of National Defence, to salute the film and the Canadian troops currently serving overseas. The government body supplied the two army vehicles, normally used for training at Camp Borden and the Canadian Forces Base in Petawawa, as well as brass and pipe bands for the event.
“[We] had used the 48th Highlanders before,“ Haylock said, adding, “because the theme this year was Passchendaele they were wondering if the Canadian army could do something ... in our true Canadian style we came, and we came big.“ At 11 p.m., a light armoured vehicle carrying eight high-ranking Canadian Forces officials pulled up to the entrance. Four pipers played as the military guests, all in dress uniform, walked the red carpet. “It was an opportunity to show off our troops today,” Haylock said.
Hershenhorn created a Canadian theme in the Liberty Grand's courtyard, illuminating the building's architectural columns with red and white lighting. Musicians from the 32 Canadian Brigade Group played songs such as “It's a Long Way to Tiperary” from an elevated platform high above the guests who mingled below. Servers at three outdoor bars served signature cocktails named after Canadian director Atom Egoyan and actors Scott Speedman and Don McKellar.
Inside, the Artifacts Room mimicked a mess hall with three long tables topped in white linens positioned down the centre of the room. Green camouflage nets hung on the walls above the food stations, which included a soup kitchen inspired by M*A*S*H where servers offered chilled vichyssoise with chive foam in old-fashioned mugs.
Inside the Governor's Room, Hershenhorn created a more “formal camouflage” look with sheer linens topping cocktail tables throughout the space. Recruiting posters plastered onto columns included the phrase “Why aren't you in khakis? You'll be wanted. Enlist at once.” Hershenhorn chose bullrushes and oak and maple leaves picked from the roadside to create a rustic feel in keeping with the time period. “I saw a rough cut of the film to get a taste of it because, obviously, I wasn't around in 1917,” she said.
The wartime theme continued with the entertainment, which included the Maisies, a group reminiscent of the Andrews Sisters, and the Hogtown Swing dancers. Gift bags included dog tags and arm bands supplied by National Defence.
The festival's opening proceedings did not include a traditional congratulatory speech from a cabinet minister, The Toronto Star pointed out, perhaps to avoid boos from the group outside the theatre protesting federal cuts to arts funding.
Alliance Films also hosted a Passchendaele-themed party at the Drake Hotel Thursday. Other opening night events included a performance by Boy George at Ultra Supper Club and an after-party for Guy Ritchie's film RockNRolla at the Boiler House in the Distillery District.