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Film4 Uses Toronto as Springboard to Launch Standout Titles

The U.K.’s Film4 backs 10 to 12 features a year, meaning that its eight-strong lineup of world premieres at Toronto Intl. Film Festival see the curtain raised on a hefty chunk of its slate.

That’s fine by Film4 boss Daniel Battsek. “Toronto was elevated for me during my American experience; it was only once I was living there and working at Miramax that for me it became this legendary launching pad,” he says.

“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” had its world premiere at Toronto and that picture marked a change of tack by Film4, the film arm of British pubcaster Channel 4, whereby it took a larger stake in a select number of bigger-budget movies. These sit along more modestly-budgeted fare and films from first-timers, which Film4 is also mandated to support.

“What we are trying to do all the time is support diverse filmmakers, women filmmakers, and to encourage debut filmmakers,” Battsek says. “At the same time we need to have the economic environment where we are taking some bigger risks with bigger rewards on some other movies so the whole financial equation makes sense as a whole.”

“Three Billboards” had a box-office haul of $159 million. “The Favourite,” like “Three Billboards” backed by Film4 with Fox Searchlight, raked in $96 million.

Being a more sizable partner changes the conversation with producers, according to Ollie Madden, head of creative at Film4. “It’s appealing for producers knowing that we can put more money in,” he says. “We can make their case more effectively and support their creative vision more forcefully when we have a bigger seat at the table.”

For Madden, the TIFF roster represents the balance of what Film4 is trying to achieve. “You’ve got two bigger-budget studio co-financed pics in ‘The Personal History of David Copperfield’ [with Filmnation] and ‘Greed’ [with Sony], and two exciting debuts in ‘Saint Maud’ and ‘Calm With Horses,’” he says. “Three of the films are directed by women. And then there is some really good BAME [black, Asian, minority ethnic] representation in ‘Copperfield’ and ‘Rocks.’”

“Copperfield,” which will open the London Film Festival, comes from “The Death of Stalin” co-writer and director Armando Iannucci, marking his first project with Film4.

“There are filmmakers that are not on our books – and Armando was one of them – that we are desperate to work with,” Battsek says. “It doesn’t feel like in any way shape or form like a traditional adaptation of a classic,” he says of the “Veep” creator’s Dickens adaptation. “It feels very much of its time.”

“Greed,” meanwhile, strikes a topical note. It reunites regular collaborators Steve Coogan and Michael Winterbottom. “They have a special chemistry as creative partners that is very much in evidence in the film,” Madden says. “It is about the inequality of wealth and fast fashion – something people the world over are aware of and thinking about.”

The U.K. is outperforming in terms of female-led projects, which land well at Toronto. “How to Build a Girl,” about an aspiring female rock writer and starring Beanie Feldstein, soon to be seen as Monica Lewinsky in FX’s “American Crime Story,” is a standout example. Another is “Rocks,” created from workshops with non-actors, and about a group of multicultural London schoolgirls.

“It’s an extraordinary piece of filmmaking,” Battsek says of “Rocks,” helmed by Sarah Gavron and written by Theresa Ikoko and Claire Wilson. “It doesn’t feel in any way conditioned on a particular format, but like it has grown from within the lives and experiences of the characters that are then playing themselves. It has a realness and a spontaneity to it.”

Channel 4, Film4’s parent, is undergoing huge change. A sizable chunk of its operations – about 300 of 800 positions at the pubcaster – are to be located outside of the current London base. Battsek and his team will remain in the U.K. capital. The Film4 chief cites “Everybody’s Talking About Jamie” shooting in the northern cities of Sheffield and Doncaster, “Dream Horse,” which lensed in Wales, and films going back to Scotland-set “Trainspotting,” as examples of Film4’s out-of-London credentials.

On home turf there is also renewed competition with BBC Films. “We’re very competitive with the BBC – and everybody else,” Battsek says. Linking the question on domestic competition with the raft TIFF launches, he adds: “We have a pretty good track record of fulfilling the ambitions of the filmmakers who come to work with us. Part of that is that their films get made, and that they get launched at important film festivals.”

Film4 Movies at Toronto
“Calm With Horses”
Director: Nick Rowland
Producer: Daniel Emmerson
Key cast: Cosmo Jarvis, Barry Keoghan, Niamh Algar
Description: When a father and enforcer for a crime family is asked to kill for the first time his attempt to do the right thing endangers everyone he holds dear.
Section: Discovery

“Dirt Music”
Director: Gregor Jordan
Producers: Finola Dwyer, Amanda Posey, Angie Fielder, Polly Staniford
Key cast: Kelly Macdonald, Garrett Hedlund, David Wenham
Description: A woman living in a remote Australian town, who has lost her way in life, has an intense affair with an enigmatic loner.
Section: Special Presentation

“Greed”
Director: Michael Winterbottom
Producers: Damian Jones, Melissa Parmenter
Key cast: Steve Coogan, David Mitchell, Isla Fisher
Description: A retail billionaire prepares for a lavish birthday party in Mykonos, Greece.
Section: Special Presentation

“How to Build a Girl”
Director: Coky Giedroyc
Producers: Alison Owen, Debra Hayward
Key cast: Beanie Feldstein, Alfie Allen, Paddy Considine, Chris O’Dowd, Emma Thompson
Description: A working-class teenager moves to London and reinvents herself as swashbuckling rock journalist.
Section: Special Presentation

“The Personal History of David Copperfield”
Director: Armando Iannucci
Producers: Kevin Loader, Armando Iannucci
Cast: Dev Patel, Tilda Swinton, Hugh Laurie, Peter Capaldi, Ben Whishaw
Description: A fresh take on Charles Dickens’ semi-autobiographical masterpiece.
Section: Special Presentation

“Rocks”
Director: Sarah Gavron
Producers: Faye Ward, Ameenah Ayub Allen
Cast: Bukky Bakray, Kosar Ali, D’angelou Osei Kissiedu
Description: A British-Nigerian girl abandons her home and hides around her London neighborhood to keep her and her brother from being taken into care.
Section: Platform

“Saint Maud”
Director: Rose Glass
Producers: Andrea Cornwell, Oliver Kassman
Key cast: Morfydd Clark, Jennifer Ehle
Description: A religious young carer becomes fixated with saving the soul of her glamorous patient.
Section: Midnight Madness

“True History of the Kelly Gang”
Director: Justin Kurzel
Producers: Hal Vogel, Liz Watts, Paul Ranford, Justin Kurzel
Key cast: George MacKay, Essie Davis, Nicholas Hoult, Charlie Hunnam, Russell Crowe
Description: A defiant rebel swears to wreak vengeance and havoc on the British Empire.
Section: Gala Presentation

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