By Indiewire | Indiewire September 13, 2004 at 2:00AM
First Weekend Deals Have Toronto Fest Buzzing
by Eugene Hernandez
While large crowds of locals gathered at festival venues here in Toronto this weekend, small groups of celebs and insiders mingled and celebrated at dinners and parties as the first deals of the festival were signed. Fine Line Features, toasting its world premiere of John Waters' "A Dirty Shame" with a dinner at Pangea last night, celebrated a big weekend over in Venice as its "Vera Drake" and "The Sea Inside" were among the big winners at the Italian festival. (And its "Maria Full of Grace" swept prizes at the Deauville festival this weekend.) Meanwhile, Sony Pictures Classics, celebrating at the same restaurant one day earlier, announced pacts for the North American rights to Venice winner "3-Iron" by Kim Ki-Duk and Jan Hrebejk's "Up and Down." "3-Iron" won the Silver Lion in Venice for best direction, as well as the FIPRESCI critic's award.
Sony Gets Two
Kim Ki-Duk's 11th feature re-teams the filmmaker with Sony Pictures Classics following the recent success of "Spring Summer Winter Fall...and Spring." The love story stars Jae Hee and Lee Seung-yin. It was executive produced by Michio Suzukt. Sony Pictures Classics' Michael Barker, Tom Bernard and Dylan Leiner negotiated the deal with CineClick Asia's Youngjoo Suh.
"'Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter...Spring' is quite a success. It opened in April and it is still playing in theaters," noted the Sony Classics team in a prepared statement. "Ki-duk's new movie '3-Iron' once again proves what a great film master he has become. This is a major work from a world-class filmmaker."
Jan Hrebejk's "Up and Down", which screened last weekend in Telluride, is described as "a vibrant, immediate story on love and cultural identity in a complex new world of fluid borders and deep suspicions." Sony Classics also released the Oscar nominated "Divided We Fall" by Hrebejk. They negotiated the deal with Neil Friedman of Menemsha Films.
"It is a pleasure to be back in business with Jan Hrebejk, (producer) Ondrej Trojan and Neil Friedman. Several years ago we released the Oscar Nominee 'Divided We Fall'," the Sony Classics group said in a statement. "Now Mr. Hrebejk is back with a great movie about the world today that is both a wake-up call and hopeful. As moving as it is witty, in the best Billy Wilder tradition, this movie is a tonic for moviegoers everywhere."
"Gunner Palace" Pact
Palm Pictures has closed a deal for North American and Caribbean rights to Michael Tucker and Petra Epperlein's "Gunner Palace," a recent look inside the lives of U.S. soldiers in Iraq. Palm will release the film in theaters early next year and distribute a DVD later in the year. The film screened last week in Telluride and had its debut in Toronto this weekend. Palm's head of acquisition David Koh negotiated the deal with Josh Braun and Micah Green for Cinetic Media.
"This is an incredibly powerful and emotional movie and document that focuses more on the human aspect of the war. It's a completely unique view on the front lines," said Palm's David Koh in a statement. "The filmmakers Tucker and Epperlein bring us images from a time and a place people would never have otherwise had a chance to see and in a way that isn't politicized but more human. It's a powerful story that I think a lot of people are going to be interested in seeing and, over time, it will become an important document that shows how things really were."
Tucker traveled to Iraq four times to capture the experiences of soldiers living in a Baghdad palace formerly owned by the late Uday Hussein, son of the deposed Saddam Hussein. In the words of the description, "The filmmakers followed soldiers as they go on patrol, come under fire from insurgents, and in truly surreal footage, later try to relax in the grounds of the sumptuous palace of the deposed dictator's son."
Chatting with indieWIRE at a party here in Toronto this weekend, two of the 400 soldiers who lived in the palace praised the movie as accurately depicting their lives and experiences in Iraq. The soldiers added that the film does so in a balanced way, without "taking sides" either on the right or the left.
"Crash" Nabbed by Lions Gate
Lions Gate grabbed all North American rights for Paul Haggis' "Crash," an L.A. story featuring Sandra Bullock, Don Cheadle, Matt Dillon, Jennifer Esposito, William Fichter, Brendan Fraser, Chris "Ludacris" Bridges, Thandie Newton, Ryan Phillipe, and Larenz Tate. The film, from Bob Yari Productions, DEJ Productions Inc. and Bull's Eye Entertainment, was produced by Bull's Eye's Bob Yari and Cathy Schulman, along with Don Cheadle, Paul Haggis, Robert Moresco and Mark R. Harris. Executive producers are DEJ Production's Andrew Reimer, Bull's Eye Entertainment's Tom Nunan and ApolloProScreen's Jan Korbellin and Marina Grasic.
"Paul Haggis has delivered a provocative and striking feature film debut, which could not be timelier in this period of heightened race relations sensitivity and post 9/11 angst," said Lions Gate Releasing President Tom Ortenberg in a statement. "We are proud to be releasing what we feel is one of the most thought-provoking dramas in some time, with an incredibly talented and diverse ensemble cast," added Peter Block, President of Acquisitions, Co-Production and Television, in a statement. Block, Jason Constantine, and Ortenberg negotiated for Lions Gate, with Neil Sacker for the Yari Film Group and Bull's Eye Entertainment, Andrew Reimer, President, DEJ Productions Inc and CAA. Foreign sales are being handled by David Glasser and Lisa Wilson of Syndicate Films.
Picture This! Has nabbed Guka Omarova's "Schizo," screening in the Toronto International Film Festival. The company plans to release the movie theatrically and on DVD via its "Tales From the Orphanage" label, highlighting coming-of-age films. The movie was in the selection at Cannes, and also screened at Karlovy Vary.
The film is described as "the story of a 15-year-old boy in Kazakhstan, who, at the behest of his mother's low-life boyfriend, procures young boxers for illegal fights so other men can gamble. Doug Witkins negotiated the deal for Picture This! Entertainment with Raisa Fomina for Intercinema Art Agency.
"Ma Mere" Deal
Christopher Honoré's "Ma Mere" has been acquired in a U.S. home entertainment pact with TLA Releasing. The film stars Isabelle Huppert and Luis Garrel and had its debut in Toronto over the weekend.
"We first learned of Ma Mere while attending the 2004 Cannes Film Market, and we have been following its success with great interest," said TLA's Richard Wolff, in a statement. "We (were) delighted to close the deal on the day before the film's North American premiere. "Wolff negotiated the pact along with TLA's President Raymond Murray, and Laurent Baudens of the Paris-based Gemini Films.
Buzz Pics Await Pacts
Mark Wexler's "Tell Them Who You Are," Pawel Pawlikowski's "My Summer of Love" and Anna Reeves' "Oyster Farmer" were among the other films that seemed to click with buyers over the first weekend. A late Sunday screening of "Tell Them..." drew a large group of buyers to a small showing at the Varsity theater, and over dinner on Sunday night, insiders were speculating about which company might and Pawlikowski's "Summer," a winner at the Edinburgh fest.