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Toronto film festival promises deals, less glitz

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Toronto film festival promises deals, less glitz

The Toronto International Film Festival will pull back the curtain for its 34th edition this week, as an unofficial kick-off to the Oscars for an industry whose glitz factor has been dulled by the slumping economy.

More than 330 films from 64 countries will be screened over 10 days from Thursday, up slightly from 2008. Many were financed last year before funds dried up as a result of the global financial crisis.

Although participants expect fewer lavish parties, they say the festival should still be a deal-making hotbed as distributors clamor to uncover the next “Chariots of Fire” or “Slumdog Millionaire.”

Those films won the Oscar for Best Picture after garnering attention at the Toronto festival.

As of last week, about one-third of the films on the bill this year lacked distribution rights in major territories.

“My feeling is that this is going to be a very good year as far as dealmaking is concerned because there are so many unknown films that look intriguing” said Michael Barker, co-president of Sony Pictures Classics.

“Every year, several of those films have always been bought. I don’t think that’s going to change this year.”

Barker, however, said he expects the value for deals to distribute top films will likely fall from past years.

PEOPLE’S FESTIVAL

In the past three decades, the Toronto festival has built a reputation rivaling the better-known Cannes and Sundance film festivals and has carved out a niche as the place where studios showcase films ahead of the end-of-year Academy Awards races.

With Toronto offering more public access to screenings than at many other festivals, studios and distributors often are able to see how a film plays in front of a real audience.

Audience approval of “Slumdog Millionaire” — it won the festival’s top award last year — presaged the movie’s Best Picture win at the Oscars.

“I think Toronto’s always been a really important part of opening the door to Oscar season,” said Michael Schaefer, Senior Vice President of Acquisitions and Co-Productions for Summit Entertainment.

Following what reviewers saw as a lackluster 2008 roster, the festival has scored high profile titles among this year’s 96 world premieres, including the Coen brothers’ “A Serious Man,” and Drew Barrymore’s directorial debut “Whip It.”

Other films include “Up in the Air,” starring George Clooney and helmed by “Juno” director Jason Reitman, and “Get Low,” starring Robert Duvall and Sissy Spacek.

Also showing is Lars von Trier’s “Antichrist,” which shocked audiences in Cannes for its graphic sex and violence.

The festival is also breaking with its long-standing tradition of opening with a Canadian film, opting instead to debut with British production “Creation,” which tells the story of Charles Darwin and his struggle to bring the idea of evolution into a world rooted in religious belief.

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Jeremy Renner looks for success, finds “Hurt Locker”

in.reuters.com

Jeremy Renner looks for success, finds “Hurt Locker”

LOS ANGELES -july11- When casting the three lead soldiers for her action-filled war drama “The Hurt Locker,” director Kathryn Bigelow avoided big name talent so audiences wouldn’t know who was going to live or die judging solely by Hollywood star power.

The result is an unpredictable and suspenseful movie that is winning fans among critics and movie audiences and could boost the career of one of its stars, Jeremy Renner, to new heights — if, that is, he wants it.

The 38-year-old actor has worked steadily in Hollywood for roughly a decade earning industry respect but little household name recognition. Yet, he is unsure how much he wants to increase his consumer appeal by working in big-budget studio movies because, he says, he feels more challenged in the world of independent film.

“Kathryn wanted fresh faces so I’m the new guy who’s been here 10 years,” Renner joked recently with Reuters.

“Hurt Locker” follows an elite band of soldiers who disarm roadside bombs on the streets of Baghdad.

At the center is Renner’s character, Staff Sergeant William James, a swaggering, reckless rebel with complete disregard for authority. But for all his bravado, James is affected by his surroundings, as seen in his relationship with an Iraqi boy.

After playing film festivals, “Hurt Locker” opened in major U.S. cities in late June to healthy box office returns, and it expands wider on Friday, July 10.

Online movie rating service FanScore, which ranks films on critical reviews, audience buzz and per-screen ticket sales, puts “Hurt Locker” at No. 3 on its chart of top films with a score of 87, one point behind comedy “The Hangover” and seven points behind No. 1 film, animated “Up” — not bad company.

BEEN THERE, BUT DONE THAT?

Renner has been in good company before, starring in films alongside Colin Farrell in “S.W.A.T.”, Charlize Theron in “North Country” and Brad Pitt in “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.”

The California native has worked consistently in film and on television since the 1990s, even getting top billing in “28 Weeks Later,” the sequel to director Danny Boyle’s successful “28 Days Later.” Last month, he ended a 10-episode run on the ABC television network’s cop show “The Unusuals.”

Yet, the actor told Reuters that working in major studio movies can be “tough” and often “frustrating.”

“I love working on independents where I can do really meaty, awesome, fantastic roles. But no one usually sees them because there’s no money or distribution,” he said.

The indie world is where Renner tends to shine, earning festival prizes for films like 2006’s “Neo Ned” and 2001’s “Fish in a Barrel.” His creepy turn as serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer in 2002’s “Dahmer” earned Renner his first Independent Spirit Award nomination — the top honors for indie movies.

He was nominated again for a Spirit award with “Hurt Locker” after its festival run, putting him a category alongside major A-listers including Sean Penn and Javier Bardem. Mickey Rourke won for “The Wrestler.”

While the acclaim has yet to translate into mainstream, box office appeal, Bigelow feels Renner’s time is near.

“Russell Crowe came to the attention of American audiences when he was 33,” she said referring to his “L.A. Confidential.” “Daniel Craig also was a 30-something break-out actor. Jeremy’s trajectory is not unusual for a serious leading man that can carry a commercial movie but also has real acting chops.”

But the actor seems to be in a quandary about how success and fame might affect his work after seeing their impact first hand with the likes of Farrell and Pitt.

“I don’t want a three-picture (studio) deal because that means I get to do one movie I like and two that I don’t. So do I resist wanting to become a household name? I’m not sure.

“I understand the upside of being wanted because it creates opportunities,” Renner said, “I’ll still be steadfast in the opportunities I choose but at the end of the day, I don’t have any doubts about where I’m going or what I’m doing.”

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