TORONTO '99: Discovering the Two Faces of Toronto
by Eugene Hernandez
Sitting in my hotel room watching Rogers Television's 24-hour film festival
coverage over the weekend, I was reminded that the Toronto International
Film Festival is actually two festivals in one. There is the event we
cover in indieWIRE, comprised of industry screenings, debut work from
emerging filmmakers and premieres of new films by established directors.
Then again there is the glitzier side, full of red carpet galas,
star-studded parties and celeb-packed press conferences catering to the
throngs of international media in attendance. Thousands of Toronto locals
gravitate to both events, grabbing autographs and attending gala showings
and also jamming screenings of smaller, edgier movies. This local audience
attendance is what makes Toronto unique among North America's premiere film
events, and part of what makes it one of the most important festivals (along with Cannes) in the world.
The two festivals converged on the corner of Bloor St. and Avenue Road at
the new Park Hyatt Hotel headquarters, ground zero for the Rogers Industry
Center, press office, festival office, video library, publicity and studio
suites, and daily press conferences and seminars. Nearly 700 sales agents,
an even greater number of journalists, festival programmers from around the
world, and representatives from every major and minor distributor gathered
in Toronto for the 24th installment of this world-class film festival.
The inclination is to compare Toronto to Sundance, and in fact, a number of
people have asked me to rank the two events. Of course it is an unfair
comparison. While both are prominent forums for discovering new work,
Toronto has established itself as the premiere North American venue for
buying and selling those movies. Organizers embrace sellers and
distributors from around the world by offering industry/press screenings on
multiple high-quality screens each day of the event to accommodate biz
Word from IndieWood is that business was slow this year, but a handful of
companies did some buying. While IndieWood distributors used the Festival
as an opportunity to launch fall films in front of the international press
and large local crowds, Fine Line did nab rights to three movies -- John
Podeswa's "Five Senses," Frederic Fonteyne's "Une Liaison Pornographique"
(A Pornographic Affair), and Jamie Babbit's "But I'm A Cheerleader."
Meanwhile, Sony Classics closed a deal on Regis Wargnier's "Est-Ouest"
(East-West), Miramax flexed its acquisitions muscles by buying Justin
Kerrigan's "Human Traffic," USA Films bought Karin Julsrud's "Bloody
Angels," and Strand found Ventura Pons' "Beloved/Friend." Alongside the
trade newsworthy deals, numerous other buyers and sellers made
international deals throughout the event.
As a venue for discovering new filmmakers and new films from the
off-Hollywood establishment, Toronto was a goldmine. Look no further than
the acclaimed Discovery section for proof. Kevin Jordan's award-winning
"Goat on Fire and Smiling Fish," Justin Kerrigan's "Human Traffic," Jamie
Babbit's "But I'm a Cheerleader," Im Sang-Soo's "Girl's Night Out," Lane
Janger's "Just One Time," and Tom Gilroy's "Spring Forward" were among
those in the section that garnered the most attention. In terms of
personal choice, "Traffic" and "Forward," which I watched at public
screening's on the first Saturday of the festival, were the clear standouts
in the section, while Kimberly Peirce's stunning "Boys Don't Cry" was an
additional fantastic feature debut, screening in the Contemporary World
Cinema section. World and North American premieres dominated numerous other
sections of the festival, offering peaks at the latest from established
filmmakers such as Jim Jarmusch ("Ghost Dog"), Kevin Smith ("Dogma"),
Takeshi Kitano ("Kikujiro"), Errol Morris ("Mr. Death: The Rise and Fall of
Fred A. Leuchter, Jr."), Agnieszka Holland ("The Third Miracle"), Michael
Winterbottom ("Wonderland"), Allan Moyle ("New Waterford Girl"), James
Herbert ("Speedy Boys"), and Gregg Araki "Splendor").
The big-time glamorous side of the Festival seemed to happen successfully.
While we at indieWIRE didn't really move in those circles, if media
coverage is any indication, the Galas were indeed popular. In fact, a CBC
article last week offered that they might be a little too popular.
"Organizers worry that stars are outshining the Toronto International Film
Festival" read the headline, as Festival Managing Director Michelle Maheux
told the CBC, "I think the media gets caught up in the star factor. I think
they lose sight of the fact that there are really talented directors coming
from all corners of the globe who are making incredibly good films that
need to be spoken to, so it's a harder slog for us to get that word out
when we're being eclipsed by the star machine." That may indeed be the
case, since as with Festivals such as Cannes and Sundance, the mainstream
media tend to focus only on the star-studded galas and parties, covering
the breakthrough movies only after they reach critical mass in the
moviegoing marketplace -- witness "The Blair Witch Project" which was not
recognized as a Sundance breakthrough until months after it debuted at the
Ten days in Toronto and another notch on our Festival belt as we dive into
the IFFM and gear up for the New York Film Festival. As always.
[ CHECK OUT indieWIRE's TORONTO '99 coverage at: http://www.indiewire.com/toronto/ ]