DAILY NEWS: A Look at the Huge Toronto Film Festival (Again); And the Buzzin' Tidbits From Toronto and Elsewhere
by Eugene Hernandez and Wendy Mitchell/indieWIRE
>> Ears to the Ground and Eyes on the Screen in Toronto; For a Few Films, the Buzz is Already Deafening
(indieWIRE: 09.06.02) -- It goes without saying (and yet we say it every
year), there are an intimidating number of movies that screen at the annual
Toronto International Film Festival. Checking in at the Festival's new Four
Seasons press office results in an immediate flood of information about
countless tantalizing new films. Pouring over the festival catalogue, which
is the size of a phone book, only adds to the stress.
Upon further consideration, though, one's racing heart slows a bit as the
festival comes into focus. Attendees just in from Venice or Telluride help
to narrow the choices a bit, and this year pre-fest screenings in New York
gave many journalists a leg up. The showings also created all-important buzz
on a number of films for the Festival, which opened last night here in
Todd Haynes' "Far From Heaven," a gala presentation set to unspool on Sunday night, arrives in Toronto after solid word-of-mouth from Venice. Attendees
at New York City screenings of the movie last month have already hailed the
film as Haynes' best. Indeed, it's a knockout film, with a stellar
performance by Julianne Moore and technical achievements that cannot be
overlooked. In town to toast the film, fresh from signing new one-year deal
with Warner Bros., is the Killer Films team. The indie company will join
forces with financier John Wells to celebrate tomorrow night, at what
promises to be a must-attend party in Yorkville.
Less glamorous, but equally powerful, is a moving new documentary by Steve
James ("Hoop Dreams") that will no doubt have audiences talking. Entitled
simply "Stevie," the personal project finds the filmmaker sucked back into
the life of the title character. James, who once served as Stevie's Big
Brother, decides to catch up with the grown-up Stevie and capture it on
camera. As the story of Stevie's impoverished, trailer-park life is
revealed, the filmmaker and the audience get more than they bargained for.
Stevie is arrested for a horrifying crime and James quickly becomes a part
of the story, while at the same time documenting his experience. The
resulting film should spark debates about social issues as well as the role
the filmmaker plays in shaping this evolving drama.
"There's a lot of wisdom in the people in this film, a lot of wisdom in a
lot of everyday people," James explained in a conversation with indieWIRE
earlier this week. "This is not a Robert Evans kind of extraordinary life."
Indeed it captures an array of people from Stevie's life. Individuals who
would be reduced to one-note caricatures by Jerry Springer are revealed
as people whose true nature seems at odds with our own pre-conceived
notions. How we should then apply this logic when judging the title
character is the most vexing aspect of the film and will lead to
charges that James, in creating a portrait of someone he cares so much
about, is forgiving the person's unforgivable actions.
"There were times when I was very tortured," director James told indieWIRE,
in advance of his trip to Canada to unveil the new doc. "I was fairly
tortured throughout (the making of this film)."
Sellers Cinetic Media will be eyeing audience reactions when the picture is
unveiled on Sunday morning in Toronto, convinced that moviegoers' feelings
about the picture will drive distributor interest.
"This is a difficult film. We are hopping that a distributor will be
interested in the film, we would like to see if get out there," James told
indieWIRE, adding that no matter what he and partners Kartemquin are solidly
behind the project. "We are not just pinning our hopes on distribution, we
are taking it on, we believe it has something to say."
One film that has already provoked controversy is Larry Clark and Ed
Lachman's "Ken Park," a picture that indieWIRE did not screen in advance of
the festival. Written by Harmony Korine ("Gummo," "Kids"), the film is making waves at the Venice Film Festival for its explicit sex scenes between
adults and teenagers. Festival audiences here will be able to judge for
themselves on Tuesday. Following Wednesday's industry screening, buzz will
no doubt include speculation over whether buyers will pursue a film assured
of an NC-17 rating.
And not to be forgotten in the controversy category is "El Crimen del Padre
Amaro," the hit Mexican film that has been condemned by that country's
Catholic church for its depiction of a priest's scandalous fall from grace.
Played by sensation Gael Garcia-Bernal ("Y Tu Mama Tambien," "Amores Perros") in a mature starring role, the priest's relationship with a
teenaged villager will no doubt also raise an eyebrow stateside when Samuel
Goldwyn/IDP release the film this fall. As for the Festival in Toronto,
organizers are offering the movie as counter-programming for churchgoers; It
is screening Sunday morning at 11 a.m. [Eugene Hernandez in Toronto]
>> Echo Lake Launches World Visions Label
(indieWIRE: 09.06.02) -- Echo Lake Productions, the production and financing
company headed by Doug Mankoff, has announced plans for a new initiative
aimed at giving international filmmakers the opportunity to direct
English-language pictures. Filmmakers CheeK from Singapore and Santosh Sivan from India have closed deals with the company to write and direct the first
projects in the slate, dubbed "World Visions." Fatih Akin from Germany is in development on a project as well.
Company EVP Andrew Spaulding is here at the Toronto International Film
Festival to hype the initiative to financiers and distributors. The company
intends to secure at least $2 to $3 million in financing from its own equity
fund and other sources.
CheeK, in Toronto last year with his first film, "Chicken Rice War," won the
Festival's Discovery Award, while Santosh Sivan was in Toronto in 1998 with
"The Terrorist." The film also screened at Sundance and received an
Independent Spirit Award nomination. Sivan also directed last year's
"Asoka." Fatih Atkin has just finished his third feature, "Solino" starring
Moritz Bleibtreu ("Run Lola Run," "Das Experiment").
Among other projects, Echo Lake recently financed Ed Solomon's "Levity" (set for release by Sony Pictures Classics) and Jill Sprecher's "Thirteen
Conversations About One Thing," it also financed and produced Allison
Anders' "Things Behind the Sun" and David Riker's "La Ciudad." [Eugene Hernandez in Toronto]
>> indieWIRE: BUZZ for Friday, September 6
With summer officially over, indieWIRE's weekly BUZZ column now moves to its
regular slot on Fridays.
LYONS GATE: Variety reporter Charles Lyons will be doing more than writing
about this year's Toronto festival, he'll also be screening his short, "The
Ghost of F. Scott Fitzgerald," in the contemporary world cinema section. The
12-minute, 35mm work screens on Monday. "It will be tricky to cover the film
festival and also be a filmmaker," Lyons tells indieWIRE. "Fortunately, we
don't write about short films otherwise I would be forced to say something
nice about myself." For a more unbiased opinion, we turned to the fest's
website, where Toronto director Piers Handling writes: "Charles Lyons's
short film, 'The Ghost of F. Scott Fitzgerald,' is another tale of love
rivaling the power of death. James is crazy about Bess, but Bess is obsessed
with 'Scotti' -- her pet name for the long-deceased author. Years go by and
James gives up on Bess, until an afterthought makes him wonder if they
weren't meant for each other after all."
LEARNING TO FLY: Eric Bogosian was seen (and heard) causing a ruckus on
his way to the Toronto International Film Festival, where he appears in
opening night film "Ararat." Bogosian evidently was selected for a random
bag search at the airport, and reached for one of his bags before the
guard was done with it. The guard yelled at him not to touch the bag and
then our spy reports that Bogosian started yelling about his rights, and
when a larger group of guards came over to tell him not to yell, he said
it was freedom of speech. Our source at the airport, also a film vet
heading to Toronto, likened it to one of Bogosian's infamous ranting
FATLIP AND MORE: RESFEST has picked 60 shorts to showcase on this year's
tour, which hits San Francisco later this month before moving to New York
and Los Angeles. The shorts, divided into seven themed programs, were
selected from more than 1500 entries. Potential highlights include Spike
Jonze's "What's Up, Fatlip?, " Mike Mills' "Hair, Shoes, Love and Honesty," Robert Bradbrook's "Home Road Movies," and Johnny Hardstaff's design-oriented short for Radiohead.
NEW ROUNDTABLES: The Reel Roundtable has programmed the fall season of its new film series in New York, "The Film Medley." The weekly series will be
held at technogeek-friendly nightspot Remote Lounge; it kicks off September
30 with a Gen Art evening. The October 7 program will present Gill Holland of CineBLAST! on "networking," October 14 will feature Jen Hollander and her new screenplay, October 21 will feature Magnolia Pictures' Eamonn Bowles with a sneak preview of and discussion about "Interview with the Assassin," and October 28 will be a program devoted to spooky shorts. In November,
speakers will include Barney Olfield, Cynthia Kane, Shane Smith, and November 25 will bring the New York premiere of "La Moitie gauche du frigo," hosted by the Montreal Film Festival. For more information, visit
NORDIC NIGHTS: New York's Scandinavia House has announced its fall series,
Directors from the Edge, featuring several U.S. and World premieres from
influential Scandinavian directors. The series, which runs through
mid-December, includes a Jorgen Leth retrospective, and Leth will be on hand
to discuss his work. Mika Kaurismaki and other filmmakers will also be in
New York for select screenings. For details, visit www.scandinaviahouse.org.
SPIKE GETTING SOFT? Spike Lee isn't trying to push any buttons with his
latest project, a children's book that he wrote with producer/wife Tonya
Lewis Lee. "Please, Baby, Please" (Simon & Schuster), due on shelves in
November, is dedicated to the couple's two children, Satchel and Jackson,
and features illustrations by Kadir Nelson. The message behind the book is
to reinforce the importance of using affirmative language with toddlers.
indieWIRE pulled some strings to get an advance peek at the tome, and found
such memorable lines as, "Don't eat the sand, baby baby baby, please."
"Anything with wedding in the title seems to sell: 'Wedding Singer,' 'My
Best Friend's Wedding,' 'Monsoon Wedding.' The titles make it clear that
these pictures are about a party -- and that's what people want to see right
now." -- art-house theater booker Roger Paulson, as quoted in the Wall
Street Journal's article about "My Big Fat Greek Wedding."
It'll be an action packed week for indieWIRE next week, with full coverage
of the Toronto International Film Festival, including film reviews,
features, and breaking news. Plus, stories about how the indie film
community is remembering September 11, Howard Feinstein's full report from
Venice (including a "Far From Heaven" review), Joe Leydon's industry insider column, and Erica Abeel's interview with "Alias Betty" director Claude Miller. [Wendy Mitchell]