Studios eye fest as first Oscar screening

Sony Pictures Classics to unveil 12 films at Toronto

Hollywood — The Toronto Intl. Film Festival has always had a hallowed place on the fall fest schedule. But more and more, independents and the major studios are capitalizing on its marketing potential for their important end-of-year releases.

Veteran festgoers praise Toronto for its blend of commercial and artistic fare, giving distributors a strong platform for their range of pics.

This year, for example, Sony Pictures Classics has a record 12 films in the fest, including Todd Louiso’s “Love Liza,” Paul Schrader’s “Autofocus,” Aki Kaurismaki’s “The Man Without a Past,” David Cronenberg’s “Spider,” Pedro Almodovar’s “Talk to Her” and Shane Meadows’ “Once Upon a Time in the Midlands.”

“Toronto is a great festival for several reasons,” says Sony Pictures Classics co-prexy Michael Barker. “The films are shown in ideal presentation –in front of very receptive audiences and this is the context in which you want film critics who come from all over North America to see them as well as exhibitors who come to check out product for (the) following year. The festival has a good history of bellwethering the success of a movie after it’s been successful in Toronto.”

Miramax will be presenting two Phillip Noyce films, “The Quiet American” and “Rabbit-Proof Fence,” as well as Julie Taymor pic “Frida” and Atom Egoyan’s “Ararat,” among other titles.

‘Bowling’ for UA

United Artists will be bringing four titles including Cannes-laureled “Bowling for Columbine,” from Michael Moore, and Mike Leigh’s “All or Nothing,” while Fox Searchlight will be bowing three of its top fall titles, “The Antwone Fisher Story,” “East of Harlem” and “The Good Thief.”

Meanwhile, a major-studio presence will be repped by Paramount and Miramax’s “The Four Feathers,” Par’s “The Wild Thornberries Movie,” and Warner Bros.’ “Welcome to Collinwood” and “White Oleander.”

“Toronto is an excellent festival to launch not only artistic films but also commercial films,” says Rob Friedman, vice chairman of the Paramount Pictures Motion Picture Group. “It’s a people’s festival. The public who attend are very, very interested and loyal moviegoers who enjoy a wide range of movies. The screenings are constantly full and there are enthusiastic crowds.”

Though Friedman acknowledges the value of Toronto for Oscar-potential pics, he is keen not to downplay the fest’s commercial aspects. “To me, Toronto is not a precious festival. It offers films the potential to have both a fruitful artistic and commercial life.”

“It does play a very important role for films that have Oscar potential,” says Amir Malin, CEO of Artisan Entertainment. “The films that are launched out of Toronto get a jumpstart on the Oscar campaign.”

Another key appeal for indie distributors is the costeffectiveness of marketing a gala screening.

Excellent visibility

“The festival allows quick visibility and credibility without having to place an enormous ad buy,” explains Artisan Pictures exec veep of worldwide marketing Amorette Jones. “You can generate early buzz in press and find champions for your films and get terrific editorial coverage. It helps build a ground swell for your movie before you go into local markets.”

For Focus Features, Toronto will be centered around the bow of Todd Haynes’ “Far From Heaven” and Francois Ozon’s “8 Women.” Focus is hopeful that Julianne Moore’s performance in “Heaven” will garner Academy Award consideration, and with a Stateside release Nov. 1, the fest will provide an important opportunity for the film’s marketing campaign.

“It’s a really good place to profile Julianne Moore’s performance and obviously provides us with a full spread of critics to review the film — including national, regional and international,” says Steve Flynn, exec veep of marketing for Focus.

“The thing that is unique about Toronto is also that it is a very high-profile domestic festival,” he adds, “which allows you to effectively do a press junket — make talent available to press — while having a gala screening for your film and so enabling you to cover all the important markets in one place.”

Pulling in the print media

Flynn also touts the value to indie distributors of the fest’s print media pull. “The media cost is very prohibitive for independent films of a certain genre which depend upon critical acclaim to reach their audience,” he says. “Media is very cost prohibitive because with these films you are buying a very sophisticated upscale demographic that usually stays away from prime media. Your marketing becomes very targeted. If the film is well reviewed and critically acclaimed out of Toronto, we can be better assured it has a chance to become successful at the box office.”

Mindful of the anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the U.S., which will fall in the middle of the fest, organizers have thought carefully about what films to run.

The fest has programmed Artisan Entertainment doc “Standing in the Shadows of Motown,” directed by Paul Justman, on Sept. 11, with a latenight after-party featuring a gig by the Funk Brothers, who are the focus of the docu. Distrib also is presenting “Roger Dodger,” which had its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival.

“Standing in the Shadows of Motown,” explains Artisan’s Jones, is being given a special presentation to provide a feel-good movie for attendees.

“No one is going to know how they will feel on Sept. 11. It’s a tough date and last year it fell right in the middle of the festival and a lot of people were trapped there. This documentary is a celebration of life, a slice of Americana. We worked with the festival to program this. It’s a feel-good picture and also a way to celebrate what being born in the U.S. means and what America’s heartland feels like. It’s a very exciting launch for us.”

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