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Home team rally in Toronto

Canuck producers field buzzy slate

The “locally grown” movement has come to Toronto.

This year’s strong Canadian feature slate has the loudest acquisitions buzz in recent memory, with U.S. and international deals for several high-profile Canuck titles expected in the coming week. Even a handful of low-budget pics are sparking interest beyond the domestic market.

But the spotlight was temporarily seized early Friday morning with the long-anticipated announcement that eOne is buying rival Alliance Films — which has distribution operations in Canada, the U.K. and Spain — for $229 million.

Alliance has 19 Toronto titles, including three high-profile Canadian films: Brandon Cronenberg’s “Antiviral” and Xavier Dolan’s “Laurence Anyways,” both Cannes pics, and Ruba Nadda’s Syria-set thriller “Inescapable,” which world preems Tuesday as a Gala. Myriad is selling the title in Toronto. Alliance opens all three in Canada this year.

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“(Government funder) Telefilm, producers and distributors are all marching in the same direction now, all the way to the finish line, and more Canadian films can are standing on the world stage now than in the past,” Alliance senior vp Mark Slone told Variety.

The eOne-Alliance deal is a hot topic for Canadian filmmakers and players at the fest. The main question is not whether, but how it will impact Canuck projects in development that are planning to seek a domestic distributor pre-buy.

“We do believe this deal creates a terrific platform for Canadian films — in a marketplace dominated by major studios, our business is centered completely around independent film,” eOne prexy and CEO Darren Throop told Variety.

“Our combined acquisitions budgets won’t shrink, and in fact have the ability to go up, and the consolidated offering of Alliance and eOne gives life to a film it can’t get in a fragmented manner,” said Throop, adding that eOne sees value in Alliance’s iconic brand in the marketplace and its creative approach to assessing and acquiring successful Canadian properties.

As the spotlight returned to preeming pics Friday night, it was business as usual — and not just for the newly minted partners.

Already, international deals are in the works for Sarah Polley’s Venice and Telluride darling “Stories We Tell,” which screened Friday night. Pic opens in Canada next month through Mongrel Media, which is now the only other large Canuck independent distributor. And “Stories” producer the National Film Board of Canada is set to meet with interested U.S. buyers today.

Friday also saw the world preem of screenwriter Kate Melville’s feature bow “Picture Day,” a lively coming-of-ager turning heads for the standout perf of Tatiana Maslany (2010 Sundance Breakout Performance winner for “Grown Up Movie Star”) as a teen forced to repeat the last year of high school.

This weekend sees the world preem of Deepa Mehta’s adaptation of Salman Rushdie’s celebrated novel “Midnight’s Children” (FilmNation is selling) as a Gala, as well as Anais Barbeau-Lavalette’s “Inch’Allah” (eOne) and Simon Ennis’ “Lunarcy! (Global Screen), all with advance buyer buzz.

“Inch,” about a female Quebec doctor working in a women’s health clinic on the Palestinian side of the West Bank, is produced by Luc Dery and Kim McCraw. Their Montreal shingle Microscope just hit the 10-year mark with recent pics including Oscar-nominated “Incendies” and fest fave “Monsieur Lazhar” elevating their profile.

“After ‘Lazhar’ we noticed buyers were starting to track our projects, which will help us as we work toward the next level of bigger budgets and more international co-productions,” Dery said.

While Dery and McCraw funded “Inch” through the typical Canadian financing model of Telefilm, provincial funds, broadcast licenses and domestic distribution pre-buys, some buzzing Canuck titles found other methods to start cameras rolling.

Robert Wilson, co-director and co-producer of darkly provocative actioner “I Declare War,” which preems Sunday, eschewed the Canadian model and accessed a completion fund of which his prodco is a shareholder.

The film, already getting advance kudos from local critics, was shot in Toronto’s Rouge Valley woods and features a cast of unknown 12-year-olds playing a high-stakes game of capture the flag in which rules are made to be broken.

“We took the project to AFM at rough-cut stage and found international and U.S. sales agents that loved the film,” said Wilson, adding that a work-in-progress screening at Action Fest saw the title nab best picture and best screenplay awards.

Even if “War” sells this week, the news won’t top Wilson’s latest announcement — boy and girl twins born Thursday morning. Babies are said to be doing just fine.

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