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Euro folk eye U.S. market

Toronto is the place to get noticed by U.S. buyers, crix

For producers, distribs and sales agents of European indie fare, making a splash in North America is crucial to their pics’ fortunes. And increasingly, it’s Toronto where they are getting their foot in the door of this all-important market.

Sitting comfortably between Venice, Telluride and AFM, Toronto is the place to be for Europeans trying to get noticed by U.S. buyers and critics.

“Venice presents a fantastic opportunity for critical reception of a film, but by virtue of its timing and location, Toronto benefits from extensive U.S. press coverage in a way that unfortunately Venice does not,” says Chris Paton, vice chairman of praisery DDA.

Adds producer Andras Hamori, whose European co-production “Fateless” is screening in Toronto after having premiered in Berlin: “Toronto is a great way to kick off the kudos season in the U.S., because all the U.S. journalists are there, not just the ones who concentrate on foreign-language films.”

Ideally though, Hamori says, a screening in Toronto is complemented by a screening in Telluride. “In Telluride you get the intellectual cineastes, the talking class, so by the time you arrive in Toronto there’s already a buzz about the film. It worked well for us with (Atom) Egoyan’s ‘The Sweet Hereafter.’ After Telluride and Toronto we ended up with two Oscar nominations.”

Toronto’s growing popularity means that studios are now increasingly organizing press junkets to coincide with the festival. As a result, pics that don’t have a U.S. distrib on board can get lost amid the hoopla.

“What can happen is that your movie gets squeezed in between the big junkets,” says one sales agent who preferred to remain anonymous. “The journalists just rush to the junkets to meet with the studio talent and don’t have any time to discover films that haven’t got a distributor yet.”

Yet, Toronto can also be a good place to find a U.S. distrib. Although the festival doesn’t have a formal market, Paton says, “People go to Venice to see films and meet their industry colleagues in an informal setting, but they go to Toronto to do business. And then you can do mop up deals at the AFM.”

Charlotte Mickie, manager of sales and acquisitions at Celluloid Dreams, adds: “Toronto is a terrific opportunity to meet a huge number of buyers and U.S. press and to have test screenings for a North American audience. The fest has arranged very strong programming throughout, so there is a lively expectation that buyers will be in attendance throughout. The atmosphere is always very friendly — it’s a nice mix between Europe and North America.”

Noah Cowan, the fest’s co-director, plays up Toronto’s importance to the biz: “We act as a conduit for non-English-language films to penetrate the North American market. We act as an unofficial starting gate for awards season hopefuls. And we are a significant market for the selling of hot films.

“Buyers and media feel they can get a reasonably good read on a film based on our public’s reaction. We have never been interested in becoming an official market with booths and screenings for buyers hived away, and have always strived to keep a real public as a central part of the mix.”

Fest has proved a good place to launch assaults on the U.S. in the past. Leading the class of 2004 were “Hotel Rwanda,” which won the audience award and went on to grab three Oscar noms and for MGM/UA$23.4 million; “The Dreamers,” which took $2.5 million for Fox Searchlight; and “Dogville,” which took $1.5 million Lions Gate.

Toronto’s magic doesn’t always pay instant dividends. Last year’s fest pics “Ferpect Crime” and “The Alzheimer Case” were just released in the U.S. on Aug. 26. “9 Songs,” “The Heart Is Deceitful Beyond All Things” and “Bullet Boy” have yet to secure dates on the U.S. calendar and others are still waiting with fingers crossed to pick up a U.S. distrib slot.