Toronto flies high

Euros give Toronto a boost on fest circuit

TORONTO — At the midway point of the 23rd Toronto Intl. Film Festival there’s general elation that extends well beyond the fact that the planes are back in the air.

The festival is a resounding success. Locals are jamming the cinemas, the industry is attending in record numbers and the films are creating a deafening buzz.

“Everyone is here,” noted Alliance Releasing president Victor Loewy. “All the buyers, all the sellers. It’s like Cannes.”

In fact, one industry attendee dubbed the core fest area the Bloor Croisette. (Bloor Street is the main drag for the fest.)

While attendance has long been substantial, this year is a bit more intense, with a significant boost coming from Europe. In addition to strong British, French and German delegations, the Italians are out in force.

The latter factor is particularly interesting in light of this year’s overlap with Venice. While the Lido showcase has been losing ground for several years to Toronto in representation by U.S. companies, now even Euros are favoring the North American event.

And, despite financial buffeting, the Japanese are present in record numbers with a 40-person delegation.

“America should be our most important market,” said Jacques-Eric Strauss of Paris-based President Film. “We have to be more aggressive because it’s very competitive, especially for foreign-language films. This is a tremendous venue to introduce films and discuss future projects.”

A panel of European directors expressed a wide range of concerns both about the feasibility of more Euro co-productions and the dominance of American movies in their countries.

Austrian Stefan Ruzowitzky noted that when “Armageddon” opened in Vienna it received a full page of coverage saying it was no good, and his award-winning film, “The Inheritors” (acquired by Stratosphere in the U.S.), got two lines of praise.

German filmmaker Tom Tykwer flexed his muscles, noting his “Run Lola Run” was outgrossing “Armageddon” despite a considerably smaller marketing campaign.

There’s a tremendous amount of business being conducted in Toronto. New projects are being shaped, co-productions treaties are being reviewed and associations are being developed.

The one area that may experience a slight dip this year is sales of completed films.

“Acquisitions are a P.R. thing,” insisted one industry attendee. “Most of the time deals are in place and the festival is used merely to make the press announcement. What’s much more important is who’s talking to who and what plans are being made for the future.”

Nonetheless, there’s been at least one confirmed sale, the American indie coming-of-age yarn “The Adventures of Sebastian Cole,” repped by William Morris. It was the premier acquisition by Paramount’s new classics division.

A number of other films, including Canada’s Cannes-preemed “Last Night,” “West Beirut,” which also launched at Cannes, and other indie U.S. fare including “Broken Vessels,” “At Satchem’s Farm” and “Desert Blue” have been reported as sparking interest among buyers. Another film, “Another Day in Paradise,” has been purchased by Trimark.

Toronto, which has long steered clear of setting up a formal market, has one anyway by dint of its massive lineup of new films and A-list international participation. It’s simply called the Sales/Industry Office.

On a global level, Toronto has to be ranked right behind Cannes in terms of its importance to the film industry.

Repeatedly one hears it being touted as one of the few “must stops” on the calendar along with Cannes and the London screenings and, for certain factions, Mifed and the American Film Market.

“It’s a different vibe than Cannes, not such a madhouse,” noted UTA agent Howard Cohen. “Not that one gets much of an opportunity, but if you have down time, there’s an actual, exciting city happening just beyond the festival.”

Strategically, the Canuck fest is ideally timed to capitalize on the fall season, which is particularly important to Europeans.

Montreal, which long viewed itself as the bridge between the two continents, simply doesn’t get as strong a program — and hence industry participation — to assert that position. Recent political and strategic fumbles (including the introduction of a market) have cost Venice points.

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