Dealmaking stops as Toronto fest is put on hold

Terrorist attack scrambles schedules, halts activities

TORONTO — The Toronto Intl. Film Festival ground to a halt Tuesday as attendees huddled in horror and amazement around large TV screens in hotel lobbies, watching the terrible events unfold in the U.S.

A somber fest director Piers Handling held a brief press conference early on canceling all Q&A sessions with talent, any screenings that hadn’t already begun, and other events for the day as some feared the entire fest, due to run until Sept. 16, would be nixed.

By the afternoon, Handling had ruled that things would kick back into gear today but added that some screenings might not run if organizers had trouble receiving prints from the U.S. — international flights were not due to resume until midday today.

Sked on hold

He said security at the fest had been beefed up, without offering specifics. Twenty-eight screenings were canceled, including the gala North American preem of Venice Gold Lion winner “Monsoon Wedding.”

“It was respectful to cancel events for the day,” Handling said. “But we decided that it was not necessary to cancel the rest of the festival. All of us are reeling from this and we’re still trying to gauge the temperature in terms of the will to continue.”

At the very least, it will give worried execs in Toronto something to do. “Everybody’s stuck,” an employee at the press office said. “The festival and the hotels are working together to try to accommodate the people who were planning to leave today but can’t.”

For the moment, execs at competing shingles are putting their differences aside to ask about loved ones. Their frenetic world of film rights, promoting pics and scouting talent, had suddenly become petty.

But the tragedy has already had a wider impact on the atmosphere and business here. Reps from film companies spent much of the day worrying about whether or not overseas talent would be able to make it to the fest.

With the Toronto Intl. Airport shut, fest attendees from Gotham and L.A who planned to return home today, were re-booking hotel rooms and wandering aimlessly in hallways wondering what to do with themselves. Some execs spoke of driving across Canada, toward Vancouver, to return back to L.A. Others are looking into ground transportation back to the U.S.

Different priorities

Many Gotham-based execs, like Sony Pictures Classics’ Michael Barker and Good Machine’s David Linde, were focused on reaching loved ones in New York rather than cutting deals. In fact it’s doubtful whether any deals will be concluded by fest’s end.

Filmmaker Monty Diamond, director of “Peroxide Passion,” said he wished the screenings hadn’t been canceled. “Life must go on,” he said. “These are precisely the times that we need entertainment.”

Paradigm’s Lucy Stilla said she would alternate between doing whatever business she could do and watching TV to keep up with the events.

The fest organizers have provided a trauma response team from Employee Assistance Program specialists Warren Shepell Consultants at the Park Hyatt Hotel, the Fest’s HQ, to assist staff and guests who need counseling.

Approximately 2,500 industryites, 1,000 guests, filmmakers, talent, 700 buyers and sellers and 750 members of the press are in Toronto for the 26th annual fest.

(Tamsen Tillson contributed to this report.)

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