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Forget Clooney, Jolie and Denzel: I’ve found the real stars of Toronto’s film festival | Peter Bradshaw

I came here for the films, but now I’m hooked on the TLC provided by Toronto’s T-shirted army, writes Guardian film critic Peter Bradshaw

I am in Toronto for the film festival, having never been to this lovely city before. Perhaps it is an illusion, but some parts of downtown feel the way New York might have done in the 1960s: an old-fashioned friendliness with cosmopolitan charm. And the feelgood factor is promoted by something I have never encountered at any other festival on this scale: volunteers. Outside every venue an army of smiley, orange-T-shirted individuals who do their level best to help you with information and directions. I sometimes find myself prefacing questions with “Sorry to bother you …” just for the verbal TLC of them replying: “Oh, please! It’s no bother at all!” When have I ever experienced this level of civic helpfulness?

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Maybe in the Apple Store, with the T-shirted apparatchiks at the Genius Bar, although they are trying to sell you stuff that will need to be upgraded sooner than you think. But then it hit me. The London Olympics of 2012. That was the last time I walked past rows and rows of people wearing T-shirts who really were trying to make your life easier. And did. With a smile. I’m tempted to demand some publicly funded programme for year-round T-shirted volunteers in every British city, but the strain of niceness might cause them to crack and kill someone. Anyway, this is a lovely novelty.

A cloud called Conrad

Conrad Black in Chicago for sentencing, after his racketeering and fraud trial in 2007. Photograph: Jerry Lia/AP

It’s not all smiles here in Toronto actually – a media-diplomatic froideur has developed, centred around the figure of Conrad Black, the Canadian publisher, author and former Daily Telegraph owner who served three years in a US prison for fraud, but has returned to be a bullish figure in conservative political circles. The website Canadaland has run a hostile mock “obituary” of Black linked to his dismissive and outdated attitudes to indigenous Canadian peoples. It begins: “Conrad Black has been found dead in his rented Toronto home. Due to a decade-long slide into relative penury, and the impending demise of his vanity project, the National Post, his death is of little importance to Canadians.”

Some at the National Post – which Black founded in 1998 – are upset at this attack; Black himself has coolly called it “bilge”. Meanwhile, in his own National Post column, Black says that “racism is dying, yet hateful people are still accusing non-racists of it”, and says of President Trump that “the accusation that he has sympathy for Nazis or the KKK is a monstrous falsehood unsupported by a scintilla of evidence”.

Black does not appear to be aware of Trump’s comment that there were “very fine people” at the Charlottesville nationalist march – which perhaps counts as just such a scintilla. Conrad Black continues to be a weird dark cloud in the sunny skies of Canadian equanimity.

Hurricane Rover

The US navy helped evacuate dogs from Texas in the wake of Harvey. Photograph: Christopher LindahlAvalon.red/Avalon.red

The sheer niceness of Canada has been reinforced by news of a Toronto-based dog welfare charity called Redemption Paws that has been on an epic journey to storm-hit Houston on a quest to rescue dogs stranded in shelters. They got more than 50 shivering dogs out of there – from great danes to chihuahuas – and transported the poor things back to Toronto, where the charity received more than 2,000 offers of adoption.

But the most heartbreaking moment came when the dogs’ three handlers, who had looked after them all the way back from Texas, had to say goodbye. “Just having three grown men, sitting in a van, bawling their eyes out was something that I was not going to forget any time soon,” a volunteer called Curtis Cluett told reporters.

A film with Owen Wilson, Adam Sandler and Kevin Hart must surely be in pre-production.

• Peter Bradshaw is the Guardian’s film critic

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