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Canuck players show local colors

Roberts, ThinkFilm, Seville among those making waves

The Toronto Intl. Film Festival remains the most important event of the year for Canadian execs. As the indie biz remains difficult for players around the world, they stress the importance of making the annual September pilgrimage.

Among those who will have a substantial presence at the fest this year are two sets of prolific Canadian producers and distribs.

Montreal producer Denise Robert has a pair of titles unspooling: opening pic “The Barbarian Invasions” and Gala presentation “Mambo Italiano.”

“Barbarian,” helmer Denys Arcand’s sequel to “The Decline of the American Empire,” has garnered more than C$5 million ($3.6 million) at the box office on its home turf, Quebec, and is set to be released Stateside by Miramax. Pic also won two prizes at Cannes.

And “Mambo,” an English-lingo adaptation of a hit Canadian play about coming out of the closet in Montreal’s Little Italy, has rung up more than $1.4 million in Quebec and is poised for release in the U.S. via Goldwyn.

“To have both films strike a chord with audiences is very exciting; it encourages you to keep working hard,” Robert says.

In the pipeline for Robert are two French-lingo projects: “Alys Robi,” a biopic of the legendary Quebecois entertainer, and another biopic on the late, great Canadian hockey star Maurice Richard.

Triptych Media, run by producer Anna Stratton and partners Robin Cass and Louise Garfield, is bringing two high-profile Canuck novels to the Toronto fest: Deepa Mehta’s “The Republic of Love,” based on Carol Shields’ book, and “Falling Angels,” Scott Smith’s adaptation of Barbara Gowdy’s novel.

“I think we have great storytellers in Canada that have been recognized internationally,” says Stratton. “It gives you this rich tapestry to begin with.”

Toronto-based distrib ThinkFilm will have a half-dozen pics at the fest, including Brazilian doc “Bus 174”; Canuck pics “Hollywood North” and “Love Sex & Eating the Bones”; and Lone Scherfig’s English-lingo debut, “Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself.”

Launched by Jeff Sackman at the Toronto fest two years ago, ThinkFilm had its first hit this summer with docu “Spellbound.” Pic, released by the distrib in Canada and the U.S., is an example of the Canadian company’s core strategy — to focus on both markets.

Earlier this year, Sackman pacted with local producer Robert Lantos, and the two now co-own ThinkFilm, with Sackman running day-to-day operations as CEO and Lantos serving as chairman. Mark Urman oversees U.S. ops.

“It is a very difficult time to launch a company,” says Sackman, whose prior job was prexy at Lions Gate Films. “We did all the startup stuff and ‘Spellbound’ is our biggest hit. Lions Gate took five years to get to this point.”

Montreal-based specialty distrib Seville Pictures will have eight films at Toronto this run, including Anne Fontaine’s “Nathalie …,” a world preem; Samira Makhmalbaf’s Cannes jury prize winner, “At Five in the Afternoon”; and Ian McKellen starrer “Emile.”

That lineup is down from 22 pics at the fest last year, reflecting a new business plan.

“We’ll be doing fewer small, obscure films and focusing more on ones that warrant more theatrical exposure,” says Andrew Austin, senior VP. “Small films are too difficult (in Canada). Theatrical is difficult and, with video/DVD, there simply isn’t enough shelf space in Canada.”

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