Northern limelight

Canuck fest plucks primo pix

TORONTO — Times are tough for film festivals around the globe, but somehow the Toronto Intl. Film Festival has managed to maintain its golden touch in tapping top pics.

With fewer acquisitions happening on site and the mounting expense of attending and launching a pic campaign at a fest, buyers and sellers have become more discriminating about where to send films and resources.

Despite some grumbling over a lack of exciting discoveries at Toronto last year and the fact that many of the highest-profile Hollywood titles — including Fox’s “Men of Honor” and DreamWorks’ “Almost Famous” — went on to only modest box office success after their Toronto screenings, the Canuck fest remains a very desirable place to position an upscale fall pic.

After all, Toronto selections have a long legacy of wowing audiences and critics — and, down the line, Oscar voters: “Chariots of Fire” and “American Beauty” made their bows at Toronto. This is why there are once again a slew of significant movies heading to Toronto including “Training Day,” with Denzel Washington and Ethan Hawke; Jack the Ripper pic “From Hell,” starring Johnny Depp; Fred Schepisi’s “Last Orders”; and “Hearts in Atlantis,” starring Anthony Hopkins and directed by Scott Hicks (“Shine”).

Toronto has been a longtime favorite spot of Hollywood studios and indie distribs to launch pics, but in recent years it has won numerous fans in the overseas film community, particularly among Europeans, who see it as the ideal gateway to the U.S. marketplace. Euro sales agents, distributors and producers turn out in full force at Toronto, which also has made it an interesting place for North American film companies hoping to sell product on the other side of the Atlantic.

“What I’ve noticed is that every continent is now putting immense pressure on us to take films,” says Handling. “The French this year knew they had had a good year and so they’ve been as aggressive as the studios in terms of positioning their films. The Australians have pushed very hard. I think that they really know this is turning into an extremely important marketplace for them. In terms of sales, you have people from around the world here … so (it is possible to) sell to another five to 10 territories while at Toronto.”

Toronto has also become the key annual pit stop for Canuck art films because it offers an audience with U.S. distribs and European film companies. In addition, it serves as a good springboard to release homegrown pics later in the fall.

But a berth in Toronto does not guarantee B.O. success, notes Patrice Theroux, president of motion picture distribution at Alliance Atlantis. The Toronto-based company has a couple of Canuck pics at Toronto this year, Bruce McDonald’s “Picture Claire,” with Juliette Lewis and Gina Gershon, and Denis Chouinard’s “Tar Angel.”

“It’s a great way to present new films to both the international and the American buyers,” says Theroux. “You will also get newspaper reviews, so the public will get a chance to hear about ‘L’Ange de Goudron’ and eventually we’ll bring it to theaters later in the fall.

“The reality is that there are a lot of Canadian movies being shown in Toronto and not all of them will become big commercial successes. But last year we had ‘Maelstrom’ in Toronto and it went on to have a decent life theatrically.”

Fest’s timing, increased international profile and enthusiastic audiences also add to the allure.

“It’s a great midpoint between Cannes in May and Sundance in January,” says Amir Malin, CEO of Artisan Entertainment, who has Steve Martin starrer “Novocaine” at the fest this year. “Many more specialized films and more dramatically oriented films are launched in the fourth quarter and it’s a great launch pad for these type of films.”

“Toronto is a key festival for us,” says Jody Patton, president of Seattle-based Clear Blue Sky Prods., which will bow Rose Troche’s “Safety of Objects” at Toronto this year. “It affords us important pre-Academy exposure, supports North American and even global sales and industry relationship-building, and is a great way to kick off the new film season after summer winds down.”

The timing of the fest (this year running Sept. 6-15) also is an advantage in that it takes place just days after Venice and often has a number of high-profile titles that screened in competition at the Italo event. The Montreal World Film Festival, in contrast, overlaps with Venice in late August, with filmmakers having to choose between the two (with Venice usually pulling the heaviest hitters).

Toronto is also a noncompetitive event so it’s able to screen pics that have already competed at other international festivals, which helps director Piers Handling craft a stronger program.

Toronto has been a longtime favorite spot of Hollywood studios and indie distribs to launch pics, but in recent years it has won numerous fans in the overseas film community, particularly among Europeans, who see it as the ideal gateway to the U.S. marketplace. Euro sales agents, distributors and producers turn out in full force at Toronto, which also has made it an interesting place for North American film companies hoping to sell product on the other side of the Atlantic.

“What I’ve noticed is that every continent is now putting immense pressure on us to take films,” says Handling. “The French this year knew they had had a good year and so they’ve been as aggressive as the studios in terms of positioning their films. The Australians have pushed very hard. I think that they really know this is turning into an extremely important marketplace for them. In terms of sales, you have people from around the world here … so (it is possible to) sell to another five to 10 territories while at Toronto.”

Toronto has also become the key annual pit stop for Canuck art films because it offers an audience with U.S. distribs and European film companies. In addition, it serves as a good springboard to release homegrown pics later in the fall.

But a berth in Toronto does not guarantee B.O. success, notes Patrice Theroux, president of motion picture distribution at Alliance Atlantis. The Toronto-based company has a couple of Canuck pics at Toronto this year, Bruce McDonald’s “Picture Claire,” with Juliette Lewis and Gina Gershon, and Denis Chouinard’s “Tar Angel.”

“It’s a great way to present new films to both the international and the American buyers,” says Theroux. “You will also get newspaper reviews, so the public will get a chance to hear about ‘L’Ange de Goudron’ and eventually we’ll bring it to theaters later in the fall.

“The reality is that there are a lot of Canadian movies being shown in Toronto and not all of them will become big commercial successes. But last year we had ‘Maelstrom’ in Toronto and it went on to have a decent life theatrically.”

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