A series of fortunate events led to Canuck pickup of Cannes winner

Veteran Toronto documentary filmmaker Ron Mann (“Comic Book Confidential,” “Grass”) was a tousled-haired “film nerd” — couch-surfing, yearning to see movies, hoping to meet a big shot or two as a Cannes attendee a few decades ago. Cut to 2010.

While everyone gripes about the often slim pickings at festivals, Mann hit paydirt at Cannes this year for Filmswelike, the boutique distrib he started in 2003 with Gary Topp.

The duo landed eventual Cannes Palme d’Or winner “Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives” — even before the film’s premiere at the fest.

After dinner with pals Keith Griffiths and Simon Fields, one push from the Buenos Aires independent cinema fest artistic director Sergio Wolf to catch the market screening of “the only film I must see,” and one accommodation upgrade (putting Mann next door to sales agent Match Factory), Mann left Cannes with Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Match Factory-repped prizewinner in his pocket.

Once home, Mann got an email from Cinemascope editor Mark Peranson, a member of Filmswelike’s brain trust. If “Uncle Boonmee” doesn’t win the Palme d’Or, Peranson wrote, there is no hope for cinema.

“Six hours later it won and we all rejoiced because it really was the cinephiles’ choice for best film,” says Mann. “Tim Burton saw what we all saw in this artist’s outstanding work.”

Not only will Filmswelike host the pic’s North American bow in September in Toronto (Mann’s shop is around the corner from the fest’s new hub), but “Uncle Boonmee” is one of three hot titles (along with Xavier Dolan’s “Les Amours imaginaire” and Yael Hersonski’s “A Film Unfinished”) to get its first run at the TIFF Bell Lightbox immediately following the fest (Sept. 23). Strand has slated the pic’s U.S. release for March.

“Lightbox is now the go-to place for cinema, in a town that has the highest-grossing per capita filmgoing audience in North America,” Mann adds. “With Lightbox now serving our international community that supports foreign-language films and the revitalization of the downtown core, we’re seeing a new dawn for Toronto cinephiles.”

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