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Early Toronto bet placed on ‘Casino’

Kevin Spacey starrer 'Jack' draws pickup

Good day, eh? Canadian pics owned both the red carpet and market spotlights opening day of the 35th annual Toronto Film Festival.

On Thursday, ATO Pictures, which releases pics through its partnership with Samuel Goldwyn Films in distrib IDP, acquired U.S. theatrical rights to George Hickenlooper’s Kevin Spacey starrer “Casino Jack,” a Canadian production supported in early stages by Canadian distrib eOne, shot in Toronto and world preeming here Sept. 16.

Pic came back on the market this summer after a deal with distrib newcomer Metropolitan went south. Thursday’s pickup

sets the ball rolling for pic’s international sale agent Hannibal Pictures and kicks off what promises to be a busy weekend for dealmakers, most hitting the Toronto tarmac today.

While eOne and ATO will most likely sync plans for a late December North American release of “Casino Jack,” many high-profile Canuck pics on this year’s fest slate will hit domestic theaters within weeks of their fest preems regardless of whether a U.S. deal is secured — a shift from how Canuck distribs handled domestic titles several years back.

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“The festival has a phenomenal amount of presence in the marketplace, and there are many ways one can work that with the theatrical release of a significant film,” said Mongrel Media president Hussain Amarshi, who will roll out Thursday night’s fest Gala opener, “Score: A Hockey Musical,” across Canada Oct. 22.

“We set our release date in January, before (helmer) Michael McGowan started shooting,” said Amarshi, adding that the pic’s fall run opening four key Canuck film fests (Atlantic, Sudbury, Calgary and Edmonton) proves their instincts were on target.

“Fubar II,” the mockumentary sequel to the Alberta metalhead cult comedy hit, opened the Midnight Madness program Thursday night, with helmer Michael Dowser’s traffic-stopping entourage arriving via flatbed truck for the red carpet and genre pic buyers in the house. Alliance opens the pic here Oct. 1.

“We don’t want to wait six months anymore,” said Alliance marketing VP Mark Sloan, adding Dowser’s original 2000 pic has been an evergreen title for the distrib. UTA and XYZ Films are handling U.S. sales of “Fubar II.” At an informal fest “jet lag” gathering Wednesday night, Travis Stevens of pic’s international rights seller, Celluloid Dreams/Celluloid Nightmares, said, “You’d be surprised how universal those Fubar dudes are.”

As for eOne, the Canuck film division of the ever-expanding international entertainment company will release Denis Villeneuve’s Venice buzz pic “Incendies,” which many are predicting will sell here, in Quebec on Sept. 17 and Toronto on Oct. 21; Bruce McDonald’s rock chick pic “Trigger” (opening screening at TIFF Bell Lightbox Sunday night) bows Sept. 30 in Canada; Sturla Gunnarsson’s docu “Force of Nature: The David Suzuki Project” opens Oct. 1; and “Barney’s Version” is slated for December release.

Thursday afternoon, fest sales and industry office director Stefan Wirthensohn said that industry attendance stands at 3,274 (a record and up from last year’s 3,159) with 63 countries repped.

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