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TIFF 2011 and into AFM

TIFF 2011 and into AFM

Another overdue blog, this time on the Toronto Film Festival: TIFF 2011 was also an indication of the upcoming AFM, now contemplating changes of its own – moving its venue from Santa Monica to downtown L.A. for example. As AFM seems to be defining itself more and more as an event to take care of the core business of film buying and selling rather than of discovery and new film adventures, although panel discussions continue as a sidebar, Toronto continues to roll out new features along with showcasing so many films it is impossible to take it all in. As for AFM this year, based on Toronto’s activities, I predict fewer Europeans will come, more Asians will attend, continuing their own itinerary from Busan and TIFFCON, and Latin America will remain hovering in the background. For a growing territory, Latin America’s profile remains nebulous. It will be interesting to see whether sales in that territory increase.

What struck me most was how crowded TIFF was. The TIFF Lightbox was one crowded area, the Hyatt Lobby was another, and the street outside connecting the two was a third. The street traffic was jammed, with smokers, people meeting up and people rushing to the theater. TheScotia Theater was also jammed and often lines to one film tempted me away from the plan I had to see other films.

Officially industry attendance was up 10% by official registration count, but unofficially it was up 17%. It felt like the latter. For rights bought and sold, visit my blogs, U.S. Distributors A-Z and Rights Round Up TIFF 2011 through AFM.

As usual I missed more films than I wanted, but I did get the pleasure of watching some I really enjoyed. (Trishna, Lasse Hollstrom’s Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, Julia Murat’s Historias que so existem quando lembradas, Susan Youseff’s Habibi, Tanya Wexler’s Hysteria, Juan of the Dead, Eye of the Storm, Agnieszka Holland’s In Darkness, Machine Gun Preacher, Brooklyn Brothers Beat the Best and Mark Ordesky-produced Lovely Molly. But how many I missed!! All those missed masterpieces! Will I ever get a chance to catch up even with Cinando and Festival Scope offering me the chance to see many of them?

The TIFF Lightbox has two elevators which were jammed during press conferences on the 6th floor. That left the trade going upstairs to P&I screenings with no elevator to use and so the single escalator was also jammed. When people left the screening rooms, so many others were waiting to get in that there was very little space to exit. The lobby itself and the lines outside also added to the feeling that I was in New York. I’ve never seen such crowds in Toronto.

The lobby of the Hyatt looked like the lobby of the Loews in Santa Monica in the days before the crash of 2008 when the AFM was having a good market. What was most interesting about the crowds – filmmakers, buyers and sellers meeting up – was that many were international sales agents who were not Toronto habitues and who were just catching up after a long quiet summer. Richard Guardian was there as much on his own as with Lightning, Larry Meyers will be announcing something soon, George Shameih, Leilani Forby and her team W2, a new sales and distribution company of people we all know from our own history. Formed December 2010 by entertainment industry veterans John Flock, most recently CEO of Peace Arch, and Named for the two Warrens,Warren Nimchuk and Warren Fergus and operating out of Los Angeles, Toronto and Vancouver, W2 acquires completed films for domestic, international and/or worldwide distribution. It also pre-buys rights to well-packaged projects that have or are likely to have meaningful theatrical distribution in the United States. Through its affiliate, W2 Entertainment Finance, W2 can finance tax credits and other production incentives, fund cash flow against domestic and international pre-sales, provide print and advertising financing, and arrange gap financing on quality projects, typically in the $2 million to $8 million budget range. Its first release, Essential Killing, launched on March 31, 2011 at Toronto’s Bell Lightbox theater. Paul Gardner, who has held senior positions at Cineplex Odeon, Artisan and Lionsgate, runs W2’s North American distribution operations, and shares acquisitions oversight with Julie Sultan. Leilani Forby is VP of Acquisitions and No. American distribution, Terese Linden Kohn is Senior Vice President of Intl. Sales & Distribution. Daniel Diamond of Morgan Creek, Kirk D’Amico of Myriad, Penny Wolfe and John Quested of Goldcrest,Marc Damon of Foresight, Morris Ruskin of Shoreline and of course Edward Noeltner of CMG were just among the registered industry there. Ungregistered sales agents took up the bulk of the uncounted increase of industry attendees.

Jeff Lipsky and the backers of his new company Adopt Films, Efuru Flowers and Lamese Williams with their fledgling distribution and sales company Vintage Bloom, Paul Cohen, Neil Freidman of Menemsha and his newest film The Island President and Sundance’s Restoration were there among the rest of the usual suspects. Old friends from Australia, Ashley Luke spoke of returning home to London; Michael Wrenn spoke of staying in Australia. Those stalwart women responsible for New York’s IFP return to strength back in the day — Catherine Tait was there introducing her new company Hollywood Suite at the Windsor Arms Hotel and Jane Wright who has yet to announce what she’ll be doing since leaving BBC Films which she also brought back into the light of the world several years ago during a grim U.K. film slump.

Stephanie Denton co-hosted a trade party at her Canadian based animation company Arc Productions where she is Sr VP Sales and Business Development. Arc Productions, formerly known as Starz Animation Toronto, is a Canadian animation and visual effects studio based in Toronto and now majority owned by a Canadian investor group, with former owner Starz Media as a minority stakeholder. The studio is best known for its work on animated feature films Dolphins and Gnomeo and Juliet, and it is currently working on an upcoming animated feature OZ3D (working title), an adaptation of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. There were even more old friends in the business, working the room, looking at new developments and discussing the traditional buying, selling, producing, etc.

After the market party, we had a wonderful informal dinner with Robbie Little and Clay Epstein of The Little Film Company and the filmmakers of Lipstikka, Guy Allon and Jonathan Sagall at the restaurant of Jonathan’s uncle, Yossi’s Famous Hummus Restaurant. Talk ranged from making a 30 year reunion film with the 3 stars and director of the popular Lemon Popsicle which had 8 sequels made (director Jonathan Sagall was one of 3 actors who were made famous by the film and would want to direct this one though with director Boaz Davidson (The Expendables) was its original director until his final nemesis, the legendary production team Golan Globus, took over. Speaking of Lipstikka – during its filming the Israeli Parliament called Israeli Film Fund Katriel Schory to task for it, asking where he draws the line, to which he responded “I don’t draw the line”. Art is art. Doha also asked to see the film, telling the filmmakers ahead of time that they could not program it as it was made with Israeli money (unclean!) but the subject of a brief moment between two Palestinian young women many years before made for worthy content. Did they want to see it just so they could say no? Someone at the table asked. I think that the wished-for censorship of the film on both sides offers yet another lesson in freedom of expression.

I had a great lunch with Susan Margolin of New Video which continues to thrive and expand from the small video company it was when she and Steve Savage started it, after she left the illustrious Fox-Lorber (home of training for David Linde, Rena Ronson, and many other major machers today). Even their DVD businesss holds steady and they are one of four “aggregators” for iTunes Worldwide, Amazon, Xbox, Samsung’s Play Station and Netflix. They also distribute to Hulu and Snagfilm. Their expansion into theatrical begins with Hell and Back Again, and Elite Squad November 11, and Fly Away by Janet Grillo. I also had a late lunch with Hilary Davis of Bankside who was in the midst of making the Sundance Selects deal for Michael Winterbottom’s tragic and beautiful Trishna.

Buenos Aires, the star of Toronto’s City to City Program offered a great panoply of the newest and the established Argentinian filmmakers, some of whom can be seen on the video here. With so much to do at TIFF, this important aspect of Latino programming was too far away from the mainstream. Diana Sanchez also hosted Latino filmmakers discussing what they see as new trends in film in her Meet With program. Among so many interesting panels, including one with Fortissimo’s Michael Werner, was one hosted by fellow blogger on SydneysBuzz, Peter Belsito, called How to Festival and my own on costume design called From Stitch to Screen: Contemporary Canadian Costume Design. You can see these all here.

Meeting new filmmakers, a Canadian producer rep, consultant and publicist Kirk Cooper of Market Access, and transmedia folk like Adipat Virdi of Transmediology, watching filmmaker clients work the offices of the sellers, pitching, analyzing results, learning, moderating the panel on costume design, made this a Toronto to remember on so many accounts.

Knowing that the players remain the same and that even as the business shifts under our feet, we remain standing is reassuring. However, what TIFF predicts for the upcoming AFM in my eyes is that AFM will be slow. The big pictures have sold and the wheels of business never stop turning and will continue throughout AFM, but new business and surprise buys will not be bountiful this AFM. Toronto was just too frantic and showed the sellers’ impatience for business to begin again. But the big money was not there and I predict it won’t be around AFM. When US$30 million films start to make money, the money will flow again. For now we only have the $4 million to $5 million buy of CBS, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen to watch in release this March to see if it will recoup and break out.

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