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Toronto’s Turbine: A Whirligig of Deals, Films, and Winners

Toronto's Turbine: A Whirligig of Deals, Films, and Winners

Toronto's Turbine: A Whirligig of Deals, Films, and Winners

by Anthony Kaufman

Upon arriving into Toronto at fest’s beginning, a delicate rose-colored
butterfly, colored somewhat like the Canadian maple leaf, flittered
above the runway and was quickly sucked into the plane’s powerful
turbine. The metaphor is not that far-reaching. Festivals are like
turbines, sucking films into their whirlwind, sometimes spitting them
out into little butterfly parts. Whether or not the films succeed or
remain intact, there is always something changed at the other end of
that spinner, an innocence lost as hundreds of moviegoers, press and
industry professionals rush in and out of theaters, searching for the
next delicate film to devour. Although this year’s Toronto festival is
being widely heralded as perhaps the best run in years and a slew of
multi-cultural media consumers covered the city’s clean streets, it’s
really no different. For indiewood, Toronto turned like the turbine.

As far as indieWIRE knows, the final acquisition scorecard showed thus:

Fine Line: 1 (Bernardo Bertolucci’s “Besieged“)

Lions Gate: 2 (Francois Girard’s “The Red Violin” and Don McKellar’s
Last Night“)

Samuel Goldwyn: 1 (Morgan J. Freeman’s “Desert Blue“)

October Films: 1 (Eric Rohmer’s “Tale of Autumn“) (2, if you count the
announcement of Emir Kusterica’s Venice premiere “Black Cat, White Cat“)

Sony Pictures Classics: 1 (Tom Tykwer’s “Run, Lola, Run“)

Paramount Classics: 1 (Tod Williams’s “The Adventures of Sebastian

In addition, The Hollywood Reporter is reporting that Carey Woods’ new
Independent Pictures distribution company has acquired former “Kids in
the Hall” member, Bruce McCulloch’s “Dog Park.” The Film stars Luke
Wilson (“Home Fries“), Natasha Henstridge (“Species“), Janeane Garofalo,
Kathleen Robertson and Mark McKinney (“Kids in the Hall“).

Lastly “Get Real,” a debut British film from Simon Shore, was reportedly
acquired, but we haven’t confirmed who bought it yet.

This year’s fest did, in fact, turn out much like the shopping mall in
which many of the screenings took place. With no designated market,
like the one in Cannes or the newly created tent in Venice, the amount
of solid business, not to mention the dealings behind closed doors, was

That may be because of the sheer amount of films in Toronto, hence the
reason that no official market is necessary. With 311 films playing,
and a healthy margin up for distribution grabs, it’s a good place to be
for filmmakers and acquisitions execs alike. Fest director, Piers
Handling told Reuters, “It wasn’t like all of the attention went to two
or three films and the rest got a little lost. There really was I think
an enormous number of good films here, reflected in the number that have
been picked up.” Handling noted a high number of attendance with 5,000
delegates, including more than 500 buyers and sellers, 800 filmmakers
and actors, and 740 registered journalists.

Some acquisitions deserve further explanation. Paramount Classics
waited until the Toronto fest to take the plunge with their first
pick-up, saying a lot about Toronto’s place in the festival world.
Samuel Goldwyn, relatively new at the acquisitions game, also made a
splash with their pickup, and the Canadian-based Lions Gate nabbed two
films from Canadian producers Rhombus Media in what was presumably a
package deal. Rhombus partner Niv Fichman explained that the deal for
“Last Night” might be contingent upon their other film, “The Red
Violin.” Fichman said, “Going with one company can maximize Don
[McKellar’s] potential and Don can do a lot of promotion for both films,
and they do come from the same place.” So rather than leave “The Red
Violin” in the lurch, the company decided on a package, which Reuters
reported, was worth “a good healthy” seven figures.

Both Fox Searchlight and Miramax are conspicuously absent as of yet, but
don’t be surprised if in the coming days, more deals are announced. A
rep from Fox Searchlight did tell indieWIRE that they had a full slate
and weren’t looking for more films, and from the looks of Miramax’s
business dealings at Cannes, where they preferred to publicize their
previously acquired “Life is Beautiful” than to pick up anything new,
perhaps the mini-studio is leaning away from acquisitions and more
interested in internally developed projects. While smaller distrib
Stratosphere saved their money that might have been speant on
acquisitions and instead announced a Canadian distribution output deal
with Red Sky Entertainment.

While for the love of film, not business, Toronto was awash in
moviegoers. According to Reuters, the festival raked in a record box
office of 1.9 million Canadian dollars. And there was an audience for
just about everything, from the most obscure foreign picture to the most
glitzy Hollywood premiere. On Saturday night, for example, audiences
crowded together at the Uptown theater, one line fighting to get into
the animated Dreamworks feature “Antz“, while the other tried to get a
seat for “Sombre,” a French art-film about a sexually-repressed serial

Toronto has a multi-cultural public like no other city in North America,
except, of course, New York. But whereas the Big Apple’s melting pot is
mushed together, Toronto’s diverse communities remain spread-out in less
assimilated districts. They all came together for the film festival,
though, with sold-out screenings for films from 53 countries from around
the world. So, as much as Toronto is an international premier
marketplace, it is also a necessary regional festival for a North
American metropolis. For a look at the hometown Canadian features,
check out indieWIRE later in the week.

Although Toronto is a non-competitive fest, several awards are doled out
at a Sunday luncheon at the Four Seasons Hotel. Though not as
marketable as a Grand Jury Prize at Sundance, an Audience Award from any
festival is always welcome for a film’s success. This year’s Air Canada
People’s Choice Award went to Miramax‘s “Life is Beautiful” directed by
Roberto Benigni. First-runner-up was Fox Searchlight’s “Waking Ned
” directed by Kirk Jones, while second runner-up was Sony Pictures
Classics’s “Central Station” from Walter Salles.

Canadian locals salute their own with two awards, one for best film, the
other for best debut. The Best Canadian Feature and a prize of
CDN$25,000 went to Robert Lepage’s “No“, a uniquely Quebecois feature
about a revolutionary crisis in 1970 that opened the Montreal World Fest
earlier this month. The New Canadian Cinema Award for Best Canadian
First Feature, along with CDN$15,000, went to Canada’s newest star, Don
McKellar for his directorial debut about Torontonians at the end of the
world, “Last Night.” Both awards are sponsored by Toronto television
station CityTV. The National Film Board John Spotton Award for Best
Short Film went to Mary Lewis for her 23-minute, “When Ponds Freeze

In addition, Rothmans World Film, a Canadian corporate sponsor of the
festival, gave the Rothman’s World Film International Critics Award to
two films from the Discovery Section (first-time filmmakers): “Praise
directed by Australian John Curran and Ziad Doueiri’s “West Beirut” a
Lebanese-French co-production. General Press at the festival got the
chance to share their opinion with the Metro Media Award: first place
went to Todd Solondz’s “Happiness“, with “Life is Beautiful” and
“Central Station” coming in respectively second and third.

[Maureen Prentice contributed to this article.]

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