Not long after Lions Gate Films shut down its New York office back in 2001, a group of company executives joined forces to launch the Toronto/NYC based ThinkFilm and Friday morning, at what has become a signature event, the start-up celebrated its 5th anniversary with its annual breakfast bash. Acknowledging that 80% of new companies fail within the first five years, CEO Jeff Sackman smiled as he welcomed a large crowd to Toronto's Windsor Arms Hotel and boasted, "I think its safe to say that no other company [in the past 5 years] has emerged from the pack as we have." Started with a group of just 10, ThinkFilm has expanded to a 35 person staff at its U.S. and Canadian offices.
"I found that just surviving is a noble cause," Sackman told indieWIRE Friday morning at the breakfast, referencing lyrics from a Billy Joel song. "We don't have the tremendous resources of the studios, but we do have the ability to be nimble," and in remarks to the crowd, prior to showing a company clip reel, he said, "The independent film business is a constant challenge...my personal definition of an indie is that it has no parental attachment, no boundaries on what product it can handle, and no (contract) with the MPAA."
With a library of some 300 titles that includes the Velocity Home Entertainment genre label and distribution arms that release films theatrically in the U.S. and Canada, Sackman told indieWIRE that he hopes the company will continue to grow, "Its in our DNA to grow, we can't remain the same. ThinkFilm is about growth, its about doing more, its about pushing evelopes. We have to continuously adapt. It requies change and movement. You keep going."
While finding success with such recent films as "The Aristocrats" and now "Half Nelson," Sackman said that ThinkFilm is hopeful about the potential for a smaller film that can break through, just as movies like "March of the Penguins" did last year. (At the breakfast Sackman unveiled a trailer for "Farce of the Penguins," Bob Saget's parody of the popular documentary that ThinkFilm will release.) And he has high hopes for John Cameron Mitchell's "Shortbus," which the company fought for after its Cannes debut. It will have its North American premiere here in Toronto, including a large concert and party to promote the film.
"Its the quintessential ThinkFilm movie," Sackman said of 'Shortbus', "I really believe that we know how to market this type of material and expand upon what people think the limits are -- we think its much broader...it can be much bigger than a lot of people think."
The feeling that the next film could be the one to catapult a company to success is a basic driving factor in this specialized and independent business, as Sackman explained, "The beauty and the hope and the optimism of the independent industry is that there always is that one (film) and its been shown over and over and over again, and I think we just have to keep doing what we do well -- I am still enthusiastic, because it happens."
"Hopefully, we'll find our 'March of the Penguins'," quipped Sackman, "So we don't have to to spoof it."
Preserving The Past on The Big Screen
"The films that we make are stories that are like oral histories of the past to carry into the future," commented Norman Cohn, who returned to Toronto with co-director Zacharias Kunuk this week to open the 2006 Toronto International Film Festival. He made the comment during a festival press conference Friday discussing the new film. The duo's first feature, "Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner," which Kunuk directed and Cohn co-wrote, won the Camera d'Or at the 2001 Cannes Film Festival, and went on to garner further praise along the festival circuit, in addition to receiving another elusive prize - a solid box office return for a non-star driven independent film.
Their latest effort, "The Journals of Knud Rasmussen," is an account of the first contact between European explorers and the Inuit. Set in 1922, the film focuses on an aging shaman and his favored, yet rebellious daughter who is also a shaman. Tensions with the family rise as she neglects her current mate in order to visit her first spouse in the spirit world. The situation is complicated further with the arrival of a group of Danish explorers.
At the press conference, Cohn explained that they felt it essential that characters, language, costuming, and every detail be perfect for the film, to preserve the past. "It's been a one-sided history," noted Kukuk, who is Inuit. "The native people never wrote things down...I grew up in a strong Anglican family, and [the old culture] of the past was never talked about." [Brian Brooks]
[Get the latest from the Toronto International Film Festival throughout the day in indieWIRE's special Toronto '06 section.]