Toronto buyers living on the edge

M'max nabs 'Sisters,' LG inks 'Irreversible'

TORONTO — Two films that are sure to generate ink and create marketing challenges due to edgy content have been picked up at the Toronto Intl. Film Festival.

Miramax Films made its second purchase at the fest, putting out roughly $600,000 for Venice Golden Lion winner “The Magdalene Sisters,” a brutal portrait of fallen women imprisoned by their families in Irish convents in the 1960s.

And Lions Gate, in conjunction with Muse Prods., took domestic rights to French pic “Irreversible,” a bold and graphic look at rape and its consequences, directed by Gaspar Noe.

Italy’s Catholic Church condemned the Venice Intl. Film Festival on Monday for giving top honor to “Magdalene.”

“This film does not tell the truth; it brings dishonor on the (Venice) festival and risks disqualifying it,” said Cardinal Tonini of the Vatican. “Considerations of aesthetic value alone are not enough. I’m amazed no one has posed the problem of historical accuracy.”

Pic’s Scottish director Peter Mullan stoked further ire by blasting the Catholic hierarchy for its awareness of the injustices committed in the Magdalene convents, which closed in 1996. The director likened this to other forms of extreme religious fundamentalism, calling for compensation for the victims and their families.

One of the most vehement critics of the Venice award was Valerio Riva, a member of the administrative board of the Biennale arts council, which controls the fest. His outrage clearly indicates that Riva will not rally to reappoint fest director Moritz de Hadeln for a second term.

“I’m in complete disagreement,” fumed Riva. “The award to Mullan is a provocation. I’m highly suspicious of claims that the Catholic Church is worse than the Taliban. This is an incorrect propaganda film and the director is comparable to Leni Riefenstahl.”

Italian distrib Lucky Red opened “Magdalene” day and date with its Venice bow, in an initial platform run of 30 prints that registered solid business and a strong screen average. The release will expand to 70 prints this week.

“As usual, there’s a lack of objectivity in these reactions,” Lucky Red chief Andrea Occhipinti told Daily Variety. “People are assuming a defensive position even before seeing the film. I’ll be interested to see what kind of impact this controversy has on the box office.”

“Magdalene Sisters,” which French sales shingle Wild Bunch sold to Miramax, also attracted bids from Lions Gate, Fine Line and Paramount Classics. Its end of the pact was negotiated by Stuart Ford, Rick Sands, Agnes Mentre and Arianna Bocco.

Touchy subject

Lions Gate plans to release “Irreversible,” which preemed at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, with an NC-17 rating in the spring, with Muse co-releasing in its first foray into distribution.

“Gasper Noe has created a cinematic masterpiece,” said Lions Gate releasing prexy Tom Ortenberg, who with the company’s Peter Block, Jason Constantine and Wendy Jaffe negotiated with Muse’s Roberta Hanley and Phil Rosen.

Wild Bunch is handling international sales on the film. Alliance Atlantis is distributing in Canada.

Lions Gate is no stranger to controversial pics. It put out unrated Larry Clark’s “Bully,” Miramax reject “Dogma” and “American Psycho.” Shingle recently was embroiled in a Motion Picture Assn. of America ratings battle over forthcoming release “Rules of Attraction.”

Ortenberg, who first viewed the pic at Cannes, said he was eager to close the deal prior to the film’s first public screening, slated for Thursday. Muse had bought the film roughly a month ago.

“Because of our history with Lions Gate on ‘Buffalo 66,’ ‘American Psycho’ and ‘Bully,’ we were very impressed with the way they handled controversial material,” Hanley said. “I bought the film because I thought Gaspar Noe is as good as Stanley Kubrick in terms of his representation of beauty.”

Other pickups

Alliance Atlantis has acquired world rights to three pics, two from the U.S. and one from France. The Toronto company took international rights, excluding the English-speaking world, Latin America and Italy, to InDigEnt-produced “Personal Velocity,” directed by Rebecca Miller. The film won two awards at the 2002 Sundance Film Festival and is set to be released by United Artists in November.

Company also acquired all international rights, excluding the U.S, to Tribeca Film Festival standout “Roger Dodger,” directed by Dylan Kidd. Pic will be released Stateside by Artisan. Pic was produced by Anne Chaisson, Kidd and George VanBuskirk of Holedigger Films and executive produced by Martin Garvey and Campbell Scott.

Also, it snagged international rights to “Adolphe” from director Benoit Jacquot and starring Isabelle Adjani.

Critical buzz

The scuttlebutt of the fest over the past couple of days has been the problem some high-profile critics have had gaining entry into overcrowded press and industry screenings. Local paper Toronto Globe and Mail slammed star critic Roger Ebert for having what the paper termed a “hissy fit” when he was denied access Saturday to a press screening of “Far From Heaven.”

Letting “names” talk their way into screenings is not Toronto fest policy, a way it distinguishes itself from other festivals. Fest directors announced Monday that they would be adding at least 15 press-only screening later in the week to accommodate overflow and assuage disgruntled critics.

Alan Rudolph’s “Secret Lives of Dentists,” having its first public screening Monday night, and “The Guys” from directed Jim Simpson, preeming Wednesday, are on everyone’s radar as hot items.

(David Rooney in Rome contributed to this report.)

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