Bigelow’s ‘Locker’ sparks interest

Buyers still wary of Iraq war film despite buzz

TORONTO — Kathryn Bigelow’s “The Hurt Locker” sparked keen interest at the Toronto Film Fest on Tuesday, but whether anyone is brave enough to release an Iraq war pic after several pics of that genre were box office bombs remains to be seen.

“Hurt Locker” is different from recent war film titles like “Lions for Lambs” or “In the Valley of Elah” in that it doesn’t make sweeping political statements, but is much more of an action-thriller.

Film first screened Monday night at the Ryerson Theater. Several distribs were interested in picking up North American distribution rights as of Tuesday afternoon, including Summit Entertainment.

One deal point filmmakers want is a wide release, which means putting up major marketing coin.

This year’s Toronto Film Fest has been notably slow in terms of acquisitions, in line with other recent fests and markets. There’s been only one major buy so far at Toronto, Fox Searchlight’s pickup of Darren Aronofsky’s Mickey Rourke starrer “The Wrestler” (Daily Variety, Sept. 9).

“Hurt Locker” focuses on a U.S. military bomb squad stationed in Baghdad that faces life-or-death situations on a daily basis. Jeremy Renner, Guy Pearce and Ralph Fiennes star in the film, which is loosely based on the experiences of journalist Mark Boal, who was embedded for Playboy magazine with a bomb unit in Baghdad.

Boal worked with Paul Haggis on “In the Valley of Elah” but says that “Hurt Locker” is a “totally different movie that gives you the experience of soldiers on the ground.”

Pic is being sold by Voltage Pictures.

Just after “Hurt Locker” screened Monday night, Voltage Pictures prexy Nicholas Chartier showed up at Summit’s party, where he fielded calls. He also huddled with Summit’s Rob Friedman.

After “The Wrestler,” “Hurt Locker” could bring in the next biggest sale of the fest, if someone is willing to tackle what’s sure to be a challenging marketing campaign.

A handful of titles also were in play on Tuesday. They include Jennifer Aniston romantic comedy “Management,” which was produced and is being sold by Sidney Kimmel Entertainment. Lionsgate, Overture and Screen Gems are reportedly eyeing the pic, but it’s doubtful that any deal will come before the festival ends this weekend.

Irish black-and-white drama “Kisses,” about two runaways, also is generating some interest. The CAA-repped film has been well screened on the fest circuit, including at Telluride. Some lowball offers have been made, but CAA continues to shop for a bigger deal.

Richard Linklater’s period piece “Me and Orson Welles” is getting second looks from several distribs, including Sony Pictures Classics. Yet with a stack of 10 films here — their most ever — SPC can afford to be patient.

Another deal expected to close within days is Magnolia’s acquisition of Steven Soderbergh’s two-part Che Guevara biopic “Che,” which debuted at the Cannes Film Festival to decidedly mixed response among buyers and critics (Benicio del Toro took home Cannes’ actor prize.). The version screening at Toronto is 17 minutes shorter.

Wild Bunch has been finalizing a distribution deal with 2929 Entertainment’s Magnolia releasing arm, which handled the 2005 day-and-date experiment with Soderbergh’s “Bubble.” Sources say that a conventional theatrical release is in the cards for “Che.”

Several docus are earning attention. “Valentino,” about the famed Italian designer, and “Soul Power,” about the concert that coincided with the Muhammad Ali-George Foreman fight in Africa, have both drawn offers. Buyers also are looking at Participant Prods.’ “Food Inc.” and “Every Little Step,” about the Broadway revival of “A Chorus Line.”

(Sharon Swart and Michael Jones in Toronto contributed to this report.)