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Festive Toronto could generate business

New headquarters, plenty of available pics light up fest

From its shiny new downtown home, the Toronto Film Festival launches what may be its most ambitious edition tonight with a rousing chorus of “O Canada” (“Score: A Hockey Musical” on the Gala stage and Canuck cult pic “Fubar II” at midnight), which it hopes will mute the grousing and grumbling that preceded the event.

First came the phantom bedbug scare at Scotiabank Theater, the new main venue for press and industry screenings. It’s handily located a few blocks from the fest’s new host hotel, the Hyatt Regency, home of press and industry offices. Last week, hotel workers conducted a one-day strike last Friday, with props including a large inflatable rat.

As if that weren’t enough, the online box office had a meltdown the night before single tickets were to go on sale, sending patrons to jammed phone lines or joining the legions standing in the rain on Friday to buy tickets at the fest’s lone physical box office.

But the clouds lifted yesterday when Ivan Reitman, his sisters Agi Mandel and Susan Michaels and son Jason Reitman were on hand to christen the location of TIFF Bell Lightbox, the fest’s year-round HQ as Reitman Square in honor of Leslie and Clara Reitman, who ran a car wash on the site years ago and kept the property in the family after retiring.

“Ivan, Agi and Susan’s recognition of their parents’ commitment and vision has played a vital role in the realization of this dream, building a home for film,” festival CEO and director Piers Handling said.

While the Lightbox doesn’t cut the ribbon until Sunday, when the site comes alive with a free daytime block party, industryites hitting Toronto today will soon know its vibrant, bistro-crammed downtown neighborhood, where most, if not all, of the fest’s major screening, market and party action is within reasonable walking distance.

Many U.S. buyers and foreign sales companies are wasting no time in setting up shop downtown and are overtaking the Hyatt Regency and other nearby hotels. It’s expected to be a busy fest, with U.S. distribution rights available on a number of titles.

Some biz heavyweights will still hang their hats up in Yorkville but may start to feel they’re on the wrong side of the tracks.

While the coming days will reveal if the fest organization has stretched itself too thin by opening Lightbox in the midst of the festival, early arrivals are already expressing appreciation of the proximity of key locations and abundance of new hotels.

Hoping to rekindle the convivial vibe of bygone fests, the new Filmmakers’ Lounge (134 Peter St.) is a two-story hangout where helmers (who get priority), industry and media can tweet, meet, eat, attend industry events and storm the bar for daily happy hour.

Many industryites descending into downtown Toronto have already gotten a taste of hot titles in Venice and Telluride. A slew of buzz-worthy pics that have screened at either or both of the fests such as the Weinstein Co.’s “The King’s Speech” and Fox Searchlight pics “Black Swan” and “Never Let Me Go” are also screening in Toronto.

But even though major distribs are attached to many of these buzz pics, buyers know there are still of uncut gems to be had.

IM Global’s “Everything Must Go,” starring Will Ferrell and Rebecca Hall, is up for grabs, while David Schwimmer’s “Trust,” starring Clive Owen and Catherine Keener, could see business for Nu Image/Millennium Films.

StudioCanal’s “Brighton Rock,” which preems here and brings Helen Mirren and Sam Riley together for Rowan Joffe’s adaptation of the Graham Greene tome, could whet the appetite of international buyers. Pic marks the first project greenlit from the development slate of Blighty distrib Optimum Releasing and is a title for which many European buyers have expressed early interest.

Meanwhile, eOne Intl. is selling Denis Villeneuve’s “Incendies,” hot off the plane from Venice and Telluride, while Goldcrest Films is unveiling Justin Chadwick’s Kenya-set “The First Grader” to buyers.

Errol Morris’ distrib-free docu “Tabloid,” sold through Submarine Entertainment, was also on the lips of Telluride attendees, while HanWay’s toon “Chico and Rita,” which chronicles a budding Cuban pianist and his chanteuse lover from Havana to New York, Paris, Hollywood and Las Vegas, could spice up the Toronto menu.

There’s also sure to be action on films still in production. “The King’s Speech” producer Iain Canning is in town to unveil his Steve McQueen and Michael Fassbender project, “Shame,” sold through HanWay. Title, about a man unable to manage his sex life, could be tempting to buyers after the duo won awards at Cannes and Venice for 2008’s “Hunger.”

And IM Global will no doubt be trying to secure deals on DNA Films’ “Judge Dredd,” set to lense in South Africa, while Myriad Pictures will be screening first footage of Kevin Spacey Wall Street thriller “Margin Call.”