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Toronto turns up the volume

Party has already started at film fest

On the eve of the 37th annual Toronto Intl. Film Festival, the party has already started — with Telluride’s awards-season buzz and Venice’s market action playing minor roles in setting the stage for a sprawling but smartly planned 10-day event.

The fest reports 4,006 industry registrants to date (200 more than last year’s count) and 1,200 accredited press (status quo) — not to mention Toronto’s ever-vibrant auds — are about to encounter 289 features from a record 72 nations (65 last year).

This year Toronto promises to be as much about A-list red-carpet thrills (Ben Affleck, Halle Berry, Johnny Depp, et al) as it is about discovery of new talent (feature bows like Catriona McKenzie’s “Satellite Boy,” Ramaa Mosley’s “The Brass Teapot” and Janet Tobias’ “No Place on Earth”) and dealmaking.

All bets are on for a buoyant market. By the time Rian Johnson’s world-preeming fest opener sci-fi actioner “Looper,” Cannes darling “Rust & Bone” and world-preeming Midnight Madness opener “Dredd 3D” unspool Thursday night, a flurry of acquisitions chatter, pre-sale and venture announcements will be in serious motion.

Two years ago the festival opened its Lightbox headquarters in an evolving downtown hub dense with swanky hotels, film and party venues and affordable bistros. The milieu matched Toronto’s emerging role as a venue for heightened hype and business.

While the festival doesn’t host an official market, it supports extracurricular activity with an array of industry programming that includes the inaugural daylong Asian Film Summit (Sept. 10), with many major U.S. and international players — including Jackie Chan and Harvey Weinstein — on duty. And this year the City-to-City program spotlights Mumbai, India, with 10 pics and industry panels examining Bollywood and beyond.

“The rising tide floats all boats, and Toronto has become more of a market for films that aren’t in the festival and a place to announce greenlit projects,” said Submarine’s Josh Braun, whose Toronto sales slate includes world-preeming hot-topic docus “Janeane From Des Moines” (helmer Grace Lee’s election-themed hybrid) and “State 194” (Dan Setton’s Participant Media-fueled fly-on-the-wall examination of the quest for Palestinian statehood).

“Not so long ago companies were disappearing, but now the market feels healthier and more competitive with a new crop run by people with deep roots in the distribution world,” added Braun, who’s also repping Rob Zombie’s “The Lords of Salem,” world-preeming in Toronto’s aud fave and go-to sales zone Midnight Madness.

Preferred Content’s Kevin Iwashina, repping JT Petty’s world-preeming 3D exorcism comedy “Hellbenders,” said Toronto is the ideal venue for sales of challenging fare and forging new deals: “Toronto has become an efficient place to discuss new platforms, engage with the domestic and international marketplace and prepare for the AFM.”

And the Vanguard program, now run by Midnight Madness guru Colin Geddes, is shaping up as a potential selling ground — with titles like Peter Strickland’s meta-horror chiller “Berberian Sound Studio” and Jason Lapeyre and Robert Wilson’s kid-centric black comedy “I Declare War.”

This year the program’s red carpet unravels in front of an old friend, the Bloor Cinema. A quick drive or subway ride from the downtown hub, the Bloor is a vintage “movie palace,” the former home of Midnight Madness and has been a beloved rep house for 30 years. Recently renovated as the year-round home for Hot Docs, the Bloor enters the Toronto mix to host preems for Vanguard pics and some of the 50 docus on the slate.

News that the Bloor just secured a license to sell beer and wine should prove the tipping point for auds seeking adventure off the fest’s main stomping ground.

“We go to these festivals to do business but what we often miss is the festival’s great programming,” said FilmNation CEO Glen Basner, whose high-profile slate includes “To the Wonder,” “Midnight’s Children” and “Aftershock.”

“One day, when they kick me out of this business, I’m going to come to Toronto and watch four movies a day,” he laughed.

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