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George Christy Talks About Barry Avrich, Toronto International Film Festival and More!

Toronto’s indefatigable Barry Avrich with wife Max and daughter Sloan on safari in South Africa viewing the Big Five (lions, elephants, water buffalo, leopards and rhinos).

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Oh, Canada … our love is here to stay. 

The People.  The Ethnicity.  The Landscape.  The humor. The kind good manners.

Barry Avrich, born in Montreal and a Torontonian for decades, is People You Should Know.   World traveler with wife Max and 11-year-old redhaired Sloan, who became bewildered after discovering that red hair will vanish in a hundred years.  She persuaded her dad to produce a 15-minute documentary, Red Alert, that she researched and that became a hit at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) two years ago. 

The family returned a week ago from South Africa’s Cape Town after a  four-day safari at the elite Royal Malekawne, operated by Liz and Phil Biden and favored by Elton John and Bono.  The Avriches jeeped into the wilderness for “up close” observations of the Big Five.   Lions, elephants, water buffalos, leopards, rhinos.   Tigers, informs Barry, are bred in India.

You should know that Barry Avrich’s documentary credits are legion.  Compelling and timeless.  The Last Mogul about Universal Studios dynamo Lew Wasserman; Filthy Gorgeous about Bob Guccione of the Penthouse empire; the extraordinary theatrical producer Garth Drabinsky (Ragtime, Showboat);  the producer Harvey Weinstein; author and Vanity Fair’s contributing editor Dominick Dunne; Glitter Palace about the Motion Picture and Television Country Home, etc.

A cultural force that never stops, Barry’s filmed Shakespearean productions at Stratford in Ontario (King Lear, The Tempest, an upcoming Hamlet). 

Barry’s charity concerns know no bounds, producing galas for Best Buddies, founded by Eunice Kennedy, and where he’s honored Lauren Bacall, Shirley MacLaine, Kathleen Turner, Ann-Margret, Peter Fonda.  In another week, he’ll produce, with AMBI Films’ 28-year-old heir Andrea Iervolino, a gala tribute to Prince Albert of Monaco at Toronto’s Four Seasons Hotel, focusing on Cinema Saving The World and Climate Change.

The 40th annual TIFF opens Sept. 10  with the venerable CEO Piers Handling at the helm joined by COO Michele Maheux.  Opening night screens   Jake Gyllenhaal’s Demolition and Aretha Franklin’s documentary that Aretha’s suppressed for 40 years.   

TIFF’s 10 days are a whirligig of celebrities coming and going, posh drinks parties and nightly dinners at Toronto’s excellent multiethnic restaurants, hosted by the studios and filmmakers.   

Would that we could be there to catch up with Canadian chums and attend Michael and Diane Budman’s at-home Sunday afternoon soiree.  Michael Budman and Don Green created the Roots stores (hundreds!) in 1973.  Specializing in athletic gear and fine leather goods overseen by leathermeister Karl Kowaleski, they are throughout Canada and Asia (Hermes quality at L. L. Bean prices we’ve long claimed). 

Our local Roots store is at  371 N. Canon Dr. in Beverly Hills, managed by Adam Hochstein of Johnstown, PA. famous for its 1889 flood that inspired historian David McCullough to write a major bestseller.

Having fallen in love with Canada decades ago, we began writing about it during our 11-year tenure as a roving editor with Town & Country magazine.  The civilized life with its refreshing manners, and then more than 30 years ago we began hosting the George Christy luncheon at the Four Seasons Hotel during the festival’s first Saturday after Labor Day.  Marvin Gaye joined us, as did Wolfgang Puck, Barbara Lazaroff, Dudley Moore, for the first event, along with the Toronto Sun’s social columnist Sylvia Train, who rated festival parties, from zero to 10.  We were awarded an 11.

Smitten as we were with our Northern neighbors and the spectacular beauty of the country, the luncheon became an annual affair for 30 years, serving my beloved mom Kaliope’s famous chicken pot pie to the Who and the Who of all ages.  Parties sing when ages are mixed.   The young are fascinated with the successful adults, who are captivated getting to know the good-looking doers of the future.   

Worldly protocol dictates that wives and husbands are never seated together, which spawned outbursts at our initial luncheons, but soon enough the couples found their pleasure in meeting new people.

Guests over the years included TIFF’s chiefs Piers Handling and Michele Maheux; artistic director Cameron Bailey; Prime Minister Brian Mulroney with his glamorous Mila, their TV idol son Ben Mulroney with wife Jessica, financier son Mark Mulroney with wife Vanessa, daughter Carolyn Mulroney.

Also: Ambassador Ken Taylor; the former lieutenant governor of Ontario, Hilary Weston with Loblaws supermarket mogul Galen Weston; TV mastermind Ivan Fecan with his producer spouse Sandra Faire; media maestro Conrad Black with journalist Barbara Amiel; philanthropists Myrna and Jack Daniels; developer Jonas Prince with best-dressed wife Lynda; Canadian Academy of Cinema and Television CEO Helga Stephenson; Robert Lantos; Chaz and Roger Ebert; TV’s Susanne Boyce; former Academy presidents Andra Sheffer and Maria Topalovich; Rogers Communications’ Suzanne and Edward Rogers.

Four Seasons hotels creator Izzy Sharp with wife Rosalie;  hoteliers Klaus Tenter and Hans Gerhardt (don’t miss Hans’ juicy memoir, HotelBiz); the Four Seasons Toronto’s Dimitri Zarikos with wife Vivian; the hotel’s food and beverage director Marc Dorfman; essayist Julie Rekai; Paul Bronfman of the Bronfman dynasty; Princess Lilly Fallah Lawrence who as a teenager nixed the Shah of Iran’s marriage proposal; Marine Corporal Douglas Banker; Gail and George Anthony; Andy Nulman; The Toronto Star’s Martin Knelman; Audrey Mirvish with her prolific art collector husband David Mirvish, soon transforming the skyline of Toronto with his three Frank Gehry hi rises (Frank’s a Canadian!); David’s parents Anne and Ed Mirvish;  festival founder Dusty Cohl, who bypassed screenings to party hearty, sipping his Crown Royal and chomping on his Cuban cigar.

Of course, always there were our loyal Los Angeles friends: Fox’s Jim Gianopulos, Brad Krevoy, Steve Stabler,  Fred Spektor, Ed Limato, Toni Howard, David Yarnell, Disney’s Arlene Ludwig.  Along with New York pals, author Phyllis Melhado and Rex Reed.   

Supporters from Day One: Diane and Michael Budman, Denyse and Don Green, Roots’ boulevardier Raymond Perkins with beauty Taylor Thomson (the wealthiest woman in Canada, dad being Lord Thomson, the newspaper and Reuters scion). 

Plus a galaxy of celebrities, reminiscent of MGM’s slogan that the studio, in its heyday,  had “more stars than there are in heaven.”   Carey Mulligan; Robert Kennedy, Jr., who flew in from San Francisco; Yanou Collart of Paris;  Christopher Plummer; Norman Jewison with Lynne St. David; Norman Mailer; Sharon Stone; Martin Short; Geoffrey Rush; Kevin Costner; photographer Bruce Weber; restaurateur Yannick Bougardin; Sara and Al Waxman; Lee Daniels; Francine and Donald Sutherland; Debbie Reynolds; Trevor Nunn, who requested Debbie’s autograph (his youngsters being fans of Singin’ in the Rain); Demi Moore; Penelope Cruz; Pedro Almodovar; Philip Seymour Hoffman; Whoopi Goldberg; Eartha Kitt; Jodie Foster; Matt Dillon; Deborah Cox; Michelle and Jason Reitman; Genevieve and Ivan Reitman; Kevin Kline; JoBeth Williams; Kathleen Carroll; Naomi Campbell; Salman Rushdie; Margaret Atwood; Ron Base; Michael Ondatjee; Sting and Trudie Styler.

History on the make. You had to be there.

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