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Last Gasps at Toronto, “Desert Blue” Goes to Goldwyn and the Little Films

Last Gasps at Toronto, "Desert Blue" Goes to Goldwyn and the Little Films

Last Gasps at Toronto, "Desert Blue" Goes to Goldwyn and
the Little Films

Anthony Kaufman

With Air Canada soaring again, it seems like half of the festival attendees have
flown the coop and most movers and shakers are now considering how to
recover from the 10-day stretch of screenings and parties which finishes
off this weekend with an awards luncheon. One can detect a sense of
exhaustion in the voices of publicists, press and execs. Through smiles
and passionate conversations about which movies they preferred, there is
an undying need to get some sleep.

The big news on Bloor St. came in late yesterday with the U.S.
acquisition of Morgan J. Freeman’s “Desert Blue” by The Samuel Goldwyn
. Often described by viewers in Toronto as “sweet”, the film stars
Casey Affleck, Brandon Sexton III and Christina Ricci. John
Manulis, Head of Worldwide Production and Acquisitions,
said in a company press release, “I fell in love with the characters and
world of this film immediately upon seeing it at its World Premiere in
Toronto.” The company plans to release the film in late Spring 1999.

Cassian Elwes and Rena Ronson of WMA Independents, as well as
Daniel Rappaport from 3 Arts Entertainment, negotiated the deal
on behalf of the filmmakers. Elwes sold Freeman’s first film “Hurricane
” to MGM after its Sundance Grand Jury Prize two years ago.
“He’s a top indie filmmaker and personally he’s very important to me,”
said Elwes. On the reasons why he chose to go with relative up-and-comer
Goldwyn, Elwes said, “(Goldwyn Marketing and Distribution Head) Jeff Lipsky was unbelieivably persuasive” and
presumably Freeman did not want to make the same mistake by going
with a larger distributor like MGM (a company that ended up not knowing how
to handle an independent film). Elwes conceded that other companies were
rallying for “Blue,” but was confident in Lipsky’s experience and
commitment to the movie. “The money was obviously important to us,”
continued Elwes, “but it was important to go with a company that was
150% behind it. It was a big acquisition for them, more money than
they’ve ever paid for a movie.” Elwes has been busy as usual this
Toronto; he was responsible for Paramount Classics‘ first pick-up, “The
Adventures of Sebastian Cole
.” Last year, Elwes notably sold Robert
Duvall’s “The Apostle” for more than $5 million to October Films.

Another WMA Independents film gathering heat in these final hours of the
fest is Sebestian Gutierrez’s “Judas Kiss,” starring Simon Baker-Denny,
Alan Rickman, and Emma Thompson. The public screening sold out and the
single press screening was packed to the brim with industry sitting
on the stairs while latecomers were turned away. The indie thriller
follows a con-artist couple who kidnap a senator’s wife and find
themselves hunted by an FBI agent. Produced by Bandeira Entertainment,
the film is one of the hot products of the fest. Elwes said it is a
“slick, studio-kind of movie” and needs a distributor with the power to
back that kind of release. According to Elwes, the deal “might not go
down for awhile” as they weigh their options.

In other acquisitions news, according to today’s Hollywood Reporter, Fine
Line Features
has picked up Bernardo Bertolucci’s “Besieged,” outbidding
at least four other distributors for North American rights to the Toronto Film
Festival entrant. According to the trade, the deal is thought to be in
the vicinity of $1 million with a large backend for Bertolucci.

That was all yesterday. But today, the industry pace slows down
with only 17 screenings, almost half the amount that the early days of
the festival began with. Of these, Julie Lynch’s “Getting Off” produced
by Gil Holland’s CineBLAST! has generated some attention, as well as
such international comfortable bets such as veterans, Hou Hsiao-Hsien
(“Flowers of Shanghai“) and Manoel de Oliviera (“Inquietude“). Also
screening are Carlos Saura’s “Tango” (acquired at Cannes by Sony
Pictures Classics), Eric Rohmer’s “Tale of Autumn” (acquired recently by
October), and Mika Kaurismaki’s badly reviewed “LA without a Map.”

At the sparsely attended “Pleasantville” press/industry screening on
Wednesday, it became apparent that many of those at the festival are
looking for product, not laughs. Generally speaking, many of the films
without distribution (at least those with some buzz) are much more
crowded than those without. Granted the screening was at 9 am, but
we’d like to think that it’s discoveries that people are seeking here in
Toronto. Of course, there’s much to see here and often, much that is
needlessly neglected.

For instance, consider a little Latvian movie called “The Shoe” or the
bracing, in-your-face Serbian mob flick “The Wounds.” Although both
will likely never see the light of U.S. distribution, both films are,
for very different reasons, entertaining and artful pieces of
filmmaking. Directed by Laila Pakalnina, “The Shoe” debuted in the Un
Certain Regard section of the Cannes Film Festival and played in
Toronto’s Discovery program. Shot with gorgeous black and white
cinematography, the film follows three Soviet soldiers and their dog as
they search for the owner of a woman’s slipper found mysteriously on the
country’s border. Shot for $180,000, the North American rep told
indieWIRE that the film will likely tour extensively on the festival
circuit, and will shoot for a small run in the U.S.. Mixing slapstick
vignettes, exquisitely composed shots and little dramatic plot, it is
the kind of subtle and sublime portrait whose exhibition life is usually
dependent on film festivals.

There is also a bit of slapstick in Srdjan Dragojevic’s “The Wounds”,
but the comedy here is something like that of fellow Baltic director
Emir Kusterica’s, where the disorder, drug use, crime, and violence in
their disintegrating nation is addressed with a certain satire and
irony. The 28-year-old Dragojevic, who directed the tragic-comic war
film “Pretty Flame, Pretty Village,” returns to his native land to
examine two Serbian kids whose only idols are a neighboring gangster
named Crazy Dickie and a TV-Talk show which focuses on the country’s
fiercest gangsters. Irreverant, potent, and political, the film
outgrossed “Titantic” at the Belgrade box office. One woman at the
industry screening couldn’t stop laughing — she must have been from the
region. In the U.S., I expect the film wouldn’t be able to get over
certain prejudices and while watching it, I kept thinking, “I’ll bet if
this was in French it would get released in the States.”

Considering other less than mainstream fare, there have been efforts at
the Toronto festival to promote films relating to the African Diaspora.
Now in its fourth year, the Planet Africa section, programmed this year
by June Givanni, included 16 films from all over the world, from
American filmmakers like Marc Levin (“Slam“) and Allison Swan (“Mixing
“) to very different Africans like Mali director Abderrahmane Sissako
(“La vie sur terre“), Tunisian Nouri Bouzid (“Bent Familia“) and
Democratic Congo’s Mweze Ngangura (“Pieces d’identites“). At a press
conference for Planet Africa, Givanni claimed, “This year’s crop of
films exhibit a range of styles and themes that reinforce the global
nature of African and Diaspora experience.” The films are not strictly
about race or African subject matter, but said Givanni, “they’re
concerned with characters, they’re concerned with plot, very often,
there is a mix of cultures in the lead characters.” One film in this
section which has received heavy buzz is Julian Henrique’s Brit-based
Babymother” about a young woman who plans to become a DJ. At the
conference, Henrique related the real spirit of the festival experience,
“That’s the exciting thing about bringing a film to a festival like
this, to make a connection with the audiences.”

* * * * *

October Films announced in Totonto yesterday that they will develop the next
project from “High Art” writer-director, Lisa Cholodenko. Called
Laurel Canyon,” the movie is about a fast-living, respected record
producer whose wild values are straining her family relationships. In a
company press release, Cholodenko is quoted as saying, “The company has
been incredibly supportive and encouraging during the distribution of
‘High Art’ and I trust that their enthusiasm and commitment to this
project will be equally as strong.” The announcement comes on the heels
of “High Art”‘s recent Jury Prize at the Deauville Film Festival.

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