September 7, 2005

Toronto film fest draws eager Hollywood studios

By Nicole Sperling

TORONTO (Hollywood Reporter) - The Toronto International
Film Festival, which opens Thursday, is shaping up to be a
promising hunting ground for studio executives after the
disappointment of Cannes, industry insiders say.

"The product definitely looks a lot stronger then Cannes.
There are many more English-language movies with casts," said
Howard Cohen of Roadside Attractions, one of the firms behind
the Oscar-nominated documentary "Super Size Me."

More than 300 titles will screen during the next 10 days. A
half-dozen or so films have generated considerable pre-Toronto
buzz, but as is the case with most festivals, it's often the
under-the-radar pictures that emerge to grab the spotlight.
Some of the highest-profile titles going into the 10-day
festival include Jason Reitman's tobacco industry satire "Thank
You for Smoking."

Screenwriter David Ayer ("Training Day," "S.W.A.T.") will
raise the curtain on his directorial debut, "Harsh Times," on
Sunday. "Harsh" stars Christian Bale ("Batman Begins") and
Freddy Rodriguez (HBO's "Six Feet Under").

"This couldn't be a better time for a movie starring
Christian Bale being available for acquisition," one buyer

Other hot titles include Joshua Michael Stern's "Neverwas";
Adam Rapp's "Winter Passing," starring Zooey Deschanel, Will
Ferrell, Ed Harris and Amy Madigan; the Cate Blanchett starrer
"Little Fish"; Bart Freundlich's "Trust the Man"; "Dave
Chappelle's Block Party," directed by Michel Gondry; and Guy
Ritchie's latest, "Revolver," starring current box office champ
Jason Statham ("Transporter 2").

"You can't be at a better place (than Toronto)," said
Randall Emmett, producer of the closing-night screener,
"Edison," starring Kevin Spacey, Morgan Freeman, Justin
Timberlake and LL Cool J.

"I feel that even as a smaller indie film, if the movie is
good, you will get noticed in Toronto," Emmett said. "If you
are a good movie, the studio will find you."

But at Toronto, the truest test of any film's prospects is
its audience reception. The festival is known for attracting
cineastes who aren't shy about letting creatives know what they
think of their work.

"It's a very generous and expressive audience," says Chris
Auty, producer on this year's "River Queen," starring Kiefer
Sutherland and Samantha Morton, which is set to bow Monday. "In
a way, if you are a producer, it can be the peak moment of
reward. This audience vocally expresses its enthusiasm in ways
not seen by any other audience."

And in an era when most acquisition executives see films in
tiny screening rooms, constantly interrupted by cell phones and
BlackBerrys, the impact of sitting through a screening with an
audience of film fanatics is an invaluable experience.

Auty, who brought last year's hot title "My Summer of Love"
to Toronto, describes the festival's audiences as "truly
representative of a sophisticated but not specialized
moviegoing public." He added that there is a wide age range, a
diverse ethnic and racial mix and a good gender balance.

Also, because of the audience, feel-good pictures rarely
get lost amid the higher-profile films.

"Audience-pleasing gems can get discovered in Toronto
rather then lost in the shuffle because you have a great cross
section of audiences that attend these screenings," Lions Gate
Films senior vp acquisitions Jason Constantine said.

After the success of this summer's "March of the Penguins,"
which Warner Independent Pictures bought for a song at
Sundance, acquisition execs are definitely more tuned into the
documentary genre that seems to be appealing to a wider range
of moviegoers. And where there's demand, there's product. A
slew of documentaries are making their debut at Toronto.

Sydney Pollack's documentary on architect Frank Gehry,
"Sketches of Frank Gehry," will bow Saturday; it showcases
Gehry's life from the creative block that once plagued him to
the construction of his masterpieces. Also available for
distribution is the film "John & Jane," from Indian director
Ashim Ahluwalia, which takes a look at outsourcing.

Probably the highest-profile documentary is "Dave
Chappelle's Block Party," a film characterized as part sketch
comedy, part live music concert. The film centers on the
comedian's decision to throw himself a big party after he
received a massive contract renewal in 2004. The film, from
producer Bob Yari and director Gondry ("Eternal Sunshine of the
Spotless Mind"), will bow Monday.

Sony Pictures Classics is unveiling two potential Oscar
contenders: the highly anticipated Truman Capote biopic
"Capote," starring Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Neil Jordan's
"Breakfast on Pluto."

"(Toronto) is one of the best places, if not the best place
in North America, to launch films," Sony Classics co-president
Michael Barker said. "Journalists from all over are there, and
it's the most responsive audience you can wish for. That can be
a liability when making an acquisition call but not a liability
when you are launching a film and want to show it in the best
possible context."

Reuters/Hollywood Reporter