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by Brian Brooks
September 9, 2005 5:01 AM
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Distributors Announce a Slew of Acquisitions as Toronto Heads into Full Swing

John Roecker, director (left) and Tim Armstrong (right) producer of "Live Freaky! Die Freaky!" (and also from the band Rancid). Image provided by Wellspring.

The 30th Toronto International Film Festival's opening night gala barely concluded before news of early deals by at least a few U.S. companies began circulating in self-described "Hollywood North". Announcements included films being acquired that are screening in the festival as well as news from companies attending the fest timing their announcements to coincide with the launch of the Toronto fest.

Magnolia Nabs "Fastest Indian"

New York-based Magnolia Pictures announced that it has acquired Roger Donaldson's "The World's Fastest Indian," starring Academy Award-winner Sir Anthony Hopkins, which will screen as a world premiere Saturday. Magnolia's head of acquisitions Tom Quinn, and Jason Janego in legal affairs, as well as the company's president Eamonn Bowles negotiated the deal with Gary Hannam and Barrie Osborne representing the producers. Magnolia plans a January release preceded on an Academy-qualifying run in December.

Based on a true story, "The World's Fastest Indian," according to Magnolia, features Hopkins as "the irrepressible Burt Munro, a New Zealand motorcycle ‘tinkerer' who never let his youthful passion for speed fade. After a lifetime of perfecting his classic Indian motorcycle, Burt set off from the bottom of the world to test his bike at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah. With all odds against him, he set a new speed record that remains unbroken to this day and established his legendary reputation among motorcyclists."

"We're thrilled to be releasing ‘The World's Fastest Indian,'" said Magnolia Pictures chief Eamonn Bowles in a statement. "The film is a bravura directorial turn from Roger Donaldson and Anthony Hopkins gives a performance that easily ranks among the best of a long, storied career. It's fantastic to see these artists at the very peak of their craft in the service of a roaring crowd-pleaser."

Wellspring Goes For "Freaky"

Capitalizing on the media frenzy beginning in Toronto, Wellspring announced its acquisition of North American rights to "Live Freaky! Die Freaky!" a stop-motion animation musical-comedy retelling of the Manson family crimes, directed by John Roecker and voiced by alternative rock icons Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day and Rancid/Operation Ivy's Tim Armstrong. The soundtrack includes original songs performed by Billie Joe Armstrong and Jane Wiedlin. Tim Armstrong arranged the score and the songs were written by Roddy Bottum (Faith No More/Imperial Teen). The film is the first from Tim Armstrong's production company Hellcat Pictures.

Wellspring's head of acquisitions Marie Therese Guirgis negotiated the deal with Peter Paterno and Jeff Silberman of King, Holmes, Paterno & Berliner on behalf of John Roecker and Tim Armstrong.

"John Roecker has made a clever, creative, insane envelope-pushing film," said Guirgis in a statement. "Much like Jonathan Caouette's ‘Tarnation' and Vincent Gallo's ‘The Brown Bunny,' ‘Live Freaky! Die Freaky!' is as bold and defiantly independent as filmmaking gets."

Wellspring will premiere the film theatrically as a midnight engagement in major markets around the country in first quarter of 2006, and will follow the screenings immediately with a DVD release, as well as a special DVD/CD soundtrack box set featuring the songs, score, and dialogue from the motion picture.

Other Deals

In other TIFF acquisition news, Strand Releasing announced its acquisition of Francois Ozon's latest, "Time To Leave" (Le Temps qui reste), in a deal negotiated with Celluloid Dreams. The film, starring Jeanne Moreau, is screening in the Contemporary World Cinema section at the festival, and screened in Cannes in May. Charlotte Mickie from Celluloid Dreams negotiated the pact with Jon Gerrans from Strand. Strand is planning a July '06 release for the film.

Also announced is a release for Martin Scorsese's "No Direction Home: Bob Dylan," which will screen in 30 cities as part of a deal set to be announced by Emerging Pictures. Emerging will join forces with Thirteen/WNET New York for free screenings of the two-part, nearly four-hour doc that screened at the Teluride Film Festival last weekend and is set to screen Saturday in Toronto in the Masters section. The film is slated to play in 30 cities prior to a PBS airdates on September 26th and 27th and a full-length DVD release via Paramount is anticipated a week before the TV airdate as well.

Ahead of TIFF, Fox Searchlight announced its acquisition of Toronto's opening night Film "Water" by Deepa Mehta. The film is the third in her elemental trilogy following "Fire" and "Earth." Fox Searchlight executive vice president Joseph De Marco and senior vice president of acquisitions Tony Safford negotiated the deal with John Sloss of Cinetic Media and Hengameh Panahi of Celluloid Dreams.

New York and Florida-based Castle Hill Productions announced its own U.S. theatrical deal Thursday. Jacky Comforty's award-winning documentary film "The Optimists" will debut at New York's Quad on October 21st followed by an L.A. rollout soon afterward. The film tells the story of the rescue of 50,000 Bulgarian Jews from the Holocaust by Bulgarian friends and neighbors who helped defend them by taking action to foil the Bulgarian Government's plans to hand over its Jewish citizens to the Nazis. Castle Hill Productions' president of marketing and distribution Mel Maron negotiated the deal with Comforty directly.

MTV Films also added to the flurry of acquisition announcements Thursday. The Viacom subsidiary will handle worldwide rights to action-horror videogame property "The Suffering" from Surreal Software, a subsidiary of Midway Games Inc.

In non-acquisition news, documentary home entertainment company Docurama has partnered with theatrical distributor Shadow Distribution for a multi-year first-look deal. Under the terms of their three-year agreement, Docurama will have the opportunity to license North American home video rights for all of the properties which Shadow Distribution acquires for theatrical release. The company has previously worked with Shadow on the Oscar-nominated doc "The Weather Underground," one of Docurama's best performing titles of 2004.

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