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September 12, 2003 2:00 AM
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First Timers In The Spotlight and More as Toronto Fest Heads Into Final Weekend

First Timers In The Spotlight and More as Toronto Fest Heads Into Final Weekend

by Eugene Hernandez, Wendy Mitchell and Brian Brooks









At the Sutton Place Hotel in Toronto for their press conference, directors from right: Manisha Jha ("A Nation without Women"), Ryan Eslinger ("Madness and Genius") and Jacob Tierney ("Twist"). Brian Brooks/indieWIRE (shot on the Kodak LS443)

A moderate-sized crowd showed up Thursday morning at the Sutton Place hotel in the heart of Toronto for a press conference spotlighting debut directors taking part in the Toronto International Film Festival. Lively discussion ensued after the discussion was opened up to questions from the audience with most of the panel generally agreeing that 'passion' motivated them to begin shooting.

Ryan Eslinger ("Madness and Genius") said he was determined to make his feature and began when he was just 13 years old. 35 different screenplay drafts later Eslinger, now 22 years old, finished the film. "Originally I wanted to be a mathematician," Eslinger chuckled, which gave the panel attendees a good laugh.

Finance was a consistent theme for the panel with Belgian director Thomas de Thier ("Des Plumes dans la tete") explaining how it was a necessity for him to receive financing from abroad, "In Belgium, if you're not crazy, you don't get money." The directors had various answers to another question posed by the audience, asking how they'd approach their sophomore efforts if somehow they were given $100 million. Initially, the group did not directly answer the question, that is until a member of the audience pressed them on the subject.

Indian director Manisha Jha ("A Nation without Women") gave a 'careful' answer saying, "I'd make 200 films," while "Twist" director Jacob Tierney commented, "I don't know if I'd need $100 million, but $20 million that would be great," then he added, "I can't pretend I wouldn't try to do a different story."

IFC Gets Maddin Movie

Some may be surprised to hear that Guy Maddin's latest, "The Saddest Music in the World," has found a theatrical home in the United States. It's a distinctive new film that lacks the conventions of most of the star driven, Hollywood-lite films that seem to be increasingly making their way into even specialized and arthouse theaters. While this wholly original new movie, which has wowed audiences here in Toronto, may be a bit on the experimental side, it will no doubt strike a chord on the festival circuit and in limited release. IFC nabbed the movie this week and will release it next year.

"Who wouldn't jump at the chance to work with Guy Maddin on a film that is this visionary?" said IFC Entertainment president Jonathan Sehring in a prepared statement. "The film and the filmmaker are equally distinctive. 'The Saddest Music in the World' is exactly the kind of project that IFC is interested in releasing: inimitable talent and funny, stylish, singular work."

Canadian Maddin has directed a number or unique films, many of which have been embraced at festivals around the world. He won a Canadian Genie award for his short film, "The Heart of the World," and Gemini and Emmy Awards for "Dracula: Pages From a Virgin's Diary." Maddin was honored with a Medal for Lifetime Achievement at the 1995 Telluride Film Festival.

"I'm exuberant! I couldn't be more happy with my MY BIG FAT AMERICAN DISTRIBUTION DEAL," Maddin said in a statement this week. "It's absolutely wonderful to place this film into the hands of Jonathan Sehring and IFC Films, their love of cinema rivals my own."

In "The Saddest Music in the World," Isabella Rossellini stars as Lady Port-Huntly, a disabled beer baroness who hopes to increase sales of the beverage by staging a global competition searching for the saddest music from across the globe, as performed by musicians from numerous countries. Crowds gather to watch the tuneful tournament while others from around the world listen on the radio to find out who will win the $25,000 cash prize.

"Pearls" of Wisdom

"It girl" Scarlett Johansson was in Toronto with two films: Sofia Coppola's Tokyo-set romance "Lost in Translation" and Peter Webber's Vermeer biopic "Girl with a Pearl Earring," in which she plays a maid who inspired one of the painter's great works. indieWIRE caught up with Johansson for a few minutes during the festival, and she told us about her hectic schedule making both films.









Scarlett Johansson poses for a photo during a conversation with indieWIRE at the 2003 Toronto International Film Festival. Credit Wendy Mitchell.

"I only had 10 days between the wrap of 'Lost in Translation' and shooting 'Girl with a Pearl Earring.' There wasn't much time to prepare," she explained. "I had jetlag, I had bad skin. I felt very unprepared when I got there [to Luxembourg for the "Girl" shoot.] After a week of rehearsals, Johansson said, she found her groove. The switch from American glamour girl to 17th-century Dutch housemaid meant a few adjustments. She wore very little makeup in the second film, which features lots of close-ups of her unadorned face wearing a servant's white cap.

"My skin looked good, thank God, because that cap was pretty unforgiving," Johansson said with a laugh. Actor Colin Firth, who plays Vermeer, said that all the 17th-century sets and bottled-up emotions in the film were evident during the shoot. "It was surprisingly intense, it was an emotional pressure cooker in a way," he told indieWIRE. "We were all in a closed area under the spell of this thing."

Firth said his understanding of Vermeer's work was helped by taking a trip with director Peter Webber and producer Andy Paterson to see the actual painting "Girl with a Pearl Earring" at The Hague. "Something hits you when you see the real thing on the wall," Firth said.

William H. Macy Gets Sexy In "The Cooler"

William H. Macy came to Toronto with his steamy leading-man role as Bernie Lootz in Wayne Kramer's "The Cooler," about a Las Vegas loser with such bad luck that a casino hires him to "cool" high-rollers chances of winning big. Macy sat down for a chat with indieWIRE about the film, which features some infamous sex scenes with co-star Mario Bello.

"I don't know why they waited until I was 50 years old to ask me to take my pants off," Macy joked. "I have been in good shape all my life, why did they wait this long? They should have asked me when I was 30!" He said extensive planning with Bello and Kramer made the scenes easier, as did inviting along a certain buddy named Jim Beam.

Macy said he was impressed by the finished product from first-time helmer Wayne Kramer "This is quite the debut," the actor told us. "He's off and running. He probably won't return my calls this time next year." But don't worry about Macy, hes got several upcoming projects lined up, plus he told us that he's not afraid to grovel to the greats: "I introduced myself to Scorsese and I said, 'If you need someone to do craft services, I'm there.'"

Slamdance Co-Founder Fitzgerald Launches Festival Focused Outfit

A new company dubbed Right Angle Studios, headed by Slamdance Film Festival co-founder Jon Fitzgerald, is aimed at offering consulting services to emerging filmmakers and festivals. Among the companies' aims are offering guidance to filmmakers seeking to navigate the 1,200 film festivals around the world. The new outfit's activities, announced this week, will be anchored on the recently launched website at.

In the announcement, the company offered that it will also offer website design services, contact information and access via an alliance with Film Finders. The company also intends to produce new projects via Fitzgerald's Marine Street Films, with an emphasis on digital work and distribute movies in partnership with Marc and Marla Halperin's Magic Lamp Releasing. Fitzgerald recently served as the head of the Santa Barbara International Film Festival and was also the festival director at the AFI FEST in Los Angeles.

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