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TORONTO ’08 DISPATCH | Biz Buzz: Celebrating “Che” and Pondering The Marketplace

TORONTO '08 DISPATCH | Biz Buzz: Celebrating "Che" and Pondering The Marketplace

“This generation’s ‘Lawrence of Arabia‘” is how IFC Films and those involved with Steven Soderbergh‘s “Che,” are talking about the epic film(s) about Argentine-born revolutionary Ernesto “Che” Guevara that IFC acquired here at the Toronto International Film Festival. A unique December release, in time to qualify the film for Oscar consideration, will roll out as an event on both coasts that will likely include public appearances by Soderbergh, lead Benicio Del Toro and others at the Zeigfeld Theater in New York City and also in Los Angeles. “To say we are thrilled…that is an over used word,” company president Jonathan Sehring told indieWIRE this afternoon. “Everyone is over the moon.”

“Che,” looking at the rise and fall of the Argentine doctor who becomes a guerilla revolutionary, debuted at the Cannes Film Festival in May as one four-hour long epic. Even then Soderbergh spoke of the films being released as one epic movie. He elaborated on his hopes of employing a roadshow approach, saying that “Che” should open in a town for a week as one movie, with no credits and a printed program. Later it could be split up into two films for the rest of its run in theaters. “To me that would be an event, that would be something fun,” Soderbergh said back in Cannes. Today [Wednesday] in Toronto, Soderbergh reiterated the roadshow approach, which IFC plans in December. The slightly shortened films (seven minutes shaved from part one and five minutes from part two) will then roll out separately after the new year.

IFC is planning an overture and an intermission for the roadshow screenings in December, following by possible expansion to a few other cities. Then in January it will be distributed via IFC’s day-and-date theatrical and VOD strategy. “We thought it would be pleasureable for people to see it that way,” “Che” producer Laura Bickford explained to indieWIRE this afternoon, “It’s how we enjoy seeing it. It’s like people going to see “Lawrence of Arabia” and big event films of their day.”

“IFC’s enthusiasm for this film is what is exciting,” she added, “The different ways that we can let audiences see it.”

Produced by Bickford and Del Toro (who won the best actor prize for his role in the film in Cannes), the film was written by Peter Buchman. After this week’s Toronto screenings, it is on tap for the New York Film Festival. (Read theindieWIRE Review from Cannes).

“(We are) trying to give you a sense of what it was like to hang out with this person,” Soderbergh explained in Cannes. Elaborating on the film, he added, “We came to the current version of the movie backwards. To understand why [Che Guevara] thought they could win in Bolivia, you had to see [what happened] in Cuba.” The unconventional biography provoked a critical debate, some challenging Soderbergh and writer Peter Buchman’s decision to avoid what they called today the typical “movie moments” found in most filmed biographies. Probed about the move during the Cannes press conference, Soderbergh defended, “I find it hilarious that some of the stuff being written about movies is how conventional they are, and then you have people upset that they are conventional.”

The “Che” deal, which came together this week after negotiations recently broke off with Magnolia Pictures, is the latest major North American deal for sales company Wild Bunch, which (with CAA) sold “The Wrestler” to Fox Searchlight earlier this week. It marks the second acquisition of the week for IFC Films, which also acquired Jan Troell‘s “Everlasting Moments” here in Toronto after the film’s warm reactions at last week’s Telluride Film Festival.

Biz Buzzing in Toronto

IFC Films has seven other movies screening here in Toronto, including Barry Jenkins‘ “Medicine for Melancholy,” which was toasted at a casual, yet rousing, party last night by IFC and The SXSW Film Festival, where the film premiered back in March.

A few years ago at the Toronto fest, insiders might have gathered for a mid-fest soiree at the glossy, heavily-branded Lobby club adjacent to the Park Hyatt. Or still others would hole up at Bistro 990 near the Sutton Place hotel, strolling past the velvet rope as they greeted the bouncer who kept the locals out. But last night was a bit different.

With filmmakers and fest programmers crooning karaoke on one end of the joint, buyers, sellers, bloggers and critics descended upon an unlikely spot Tuesday night, a downscale college bar down the street from Lobby. Near the front of the place, SXSW hosts distributed drink tickets as folks ranging from all sectors gathered to unwind. The key outfits driving alternative and specialized film today were all well-represented, from company heads to younger staffers: Cinetic, Roadside, Sundance, Cinematical, Magnolia, Goldwyn, Film Independent, IFC, Tribeca, Paramount, Spout, Hollywood Reporter, as well as Miramax (and of course, indieWIRE).

Despite the din of karaoke tunes, insiders talked extensively about this year’s Toronto fest. “Smaller, but better,” proclaimed a top acquisitions executive from a studio, summing up a lot of opinions.

“Actually, not too bad,” offered the head of another company, seeming a bit surprised that this year’s festival has delivered a number of quality films. “I’ve seen some decent stuff and it’s obviously become a buyer’s market recently after an incredibly long era of unrealistic film prices.” The veteran added, “I think a lot of deals will happen when the smoke clears after the festival.”

“Not surprisingly, few films have sold on the spot,” offered another company head, “That doesn’t mean there aren’t good films here that have business in them. I think the era of high ticket bidding wars at festivals is phasing out.” The exec added,”There’s not that much interest from the majors, and every other distributor wants to take their time.”

“I actually thought it was a pretty good showing,” offered another acquisitions exec. “I felt that I saw a number of great films. In fact, I feel like I am going after a lot more films than I thought I would.” Continuing he noted, “It feels good after a lot of the gloom and doom that has been going around to see filmmakers proving that there is a reason for independent film and it’s not just about making blockbusters.”

[Brian Brooks contributed to this article.]

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