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Dramas face tough time at Toronto festival


Dramas face tough time at Toronto festival

If there is anything Oscar voters love, it is a good drama. But as a key festival stop on the road to Hollywood awards got down to business on Friday, dramas were less on movie screens and more behind the scenes where the film genre is troubled.

The Toronto International Film Festival, which has long been considered a starting point for movie awards — Oscar winner “Slumdog Millionaire” got a big boost here last year — opened on Thursday night with Charles Darwin drama “Creation,” which came into the event seeking a U.S. distributor.

The festival boasts more than 330 films screening over 10 days, and ahead of opening week about a third of them lacked key distribution, including titles such as Atom Egoyan’s “Chloe” and Oliver Parker’s “Dorian Gray.”

Facing the recession at home, audiences have flocked to escapist fantasies and comedies, causing distributors of the dramas that vie for Oscars to snap up rights for those genres, leaving serious-minded fare in the dust.

Industry players say lovers of good dramas are not gone, nor is the genre dead. They see the issue as cyclical and more a marketing and cost problem than one of creative content.

Still, if you are making movies like 2007’s “No Country for Old Men,” which earned a best film Oscar, times are tough.

Director Jon Amiel, whose “Creation” tells of Charles Darwin struggling with his theories of evolution in the 1850s, called “drama” the new “five-letter word” in Hollywood.

“If you’re making a movie about a dead, bald Englishman, you’re not making a movie that even the indie distributors are flocking to buy these days,” Amiel said. “There are just many, many movies that American audiences are not going to see.”

The waning interest can be seen at box offices. Two big hits of the art house market this past summer were war drama “The Hurt Locker,” which earned $12 million — a solid number for a low-budget film but far less than twice the roughly $29 million earned by romantic comedy “(500) Days of Summer.”

“There’s a real conservative attitude (and) dramas are viewed as risky in today’s marketplace,” said Steven Beer, an entertainment attorney with law firm Greenberg Traurig.

Still, industry players say dramas can lure fans and make money. The key is devising the right production and marketing model that makes sense given today’s movie going climate.

In many cases, those marketing strategies call for grass roots campaigns that target key groups, lovers of science and period pieces for a movie such as “Creation,” for instance.

Production costs must fall to account for lower box office and declining DVD sales, which have dropped by double-digits on a percentage basis due in large part to competition from other forms of home entertainment.

“These have always been tough movies and they’ll always be tough movies. In a tough economic climate perhaps even tougher, which is why those models have to change,” said Tom Ortenberg, president of theatrical films at The Weinstein Co.

Industry watcher David Poland of MovieCityNews.com, said the drop in DVD sales had been a key factor in distributors’ unwillingness to back expensive dramas but, like the other experts, he noted there remained an appetite for the genre.

Still, distributors remain selective when looking at dramas, and that leaves little room for another breakthrough at Toronto 2009 such as “Slumdog” proved to be last year when it was acquired by Fox Searchlight ahead of awards season.

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Toronto film festival promises deals, less glitz


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.


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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Slumdog Millionaire – Trailer


Slumdog Millionaire – Trailer

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From Danny Boyle, director of Trainspotting and 28 Days Later, comes the story of Jamal Malik, an 18 year-old orphan from the slums of Mumbai, who is about to experience the biggest day of his life. With the whole nation watching, he is just one question away from winning a staggering 20 million rupees on India’s “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?”

Slumdog Millionaire is a 2008 British film directed by Danny Boyle, written by Simon Beaufoy, and co-directed in India by Loveleen Tandan. It is an adaptation of the novel Q & A (2005) by Indian author and diplomat Vikas Swarup. Set and filmed in India, the film tells the story of a young man from the slums of Mumbai who appears on the Indian version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? (Kaun Banega Crorepati in the Hindi version) and exceeds people’s expectations, thereby arousing the suspicions of the game show host and of law enforcement officials.

After its world premiere at Telluride Film Festival and subsequent screenings at the Toronto International Film Festival and the London Film Festival, Slumdog Millionaire initially had a limited North American release on 12 November 2008, to critical acclaim. It later had a nationwide grand release in the United Kingdom on 9 January 2009 and in the United States on 23 January 2009. It premiered in Mumbai on 22 January 2009. It was released on DVD and Blu-ray in the United States on 31 March 2009.


Jamal is a contestant on the Indian version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, hosted by Prem Kumar (Anil Kapoor). He has already won 10,000,000 rupees and has made it to the final question, for 20,000,000 rupees, scheduled for the next day. Following up on a tip-off from Prem Kumar, the police now suspect Jamal of cheating, because the other possibilities—that he has a vast knowledge, or that he is very lucky—seem unlikely.

Jamal then explains that, while at least the question about Bollywood superstar Amitabh Bachchan was very simple, he knew the answers of most questions by chance, because of things that happened in his life, conveyed in a series of flashbacks documenting the details of his childhood. This includes scenes of his obtaining Bachchan’s autograph (which is then sold by his brother without his permission), the death of his mother during anti-Muslim violence (rekindling memory of the 1993 anti-Muslim attacks in the Mumbai slums), and how he and his brother Salim befriended Latika (Rubina Ali). He refers to Salim and himself as Athos and Porthos, and Latika as the third of the The Three Musketeers, the name of whom they do not know.

In Jamal’s flashback, the children are eventually discovered by Maman (Ankur Vikal) while they are living in the trash heaps. Maman is a gangster (a fact they do not actually know at the time they meet him) who pretends to run an orphanage in order to “collect” street children so that he can ultimately train them to beg for money. Salim is groomed to become a part of Maman’s operation and is told to bring Jamal to Maman in order to be blinded by acid (which would improve his income potential as a singing beggar). Salim protects his brother, and the three children try to escape, but only he and Jamal are able to do so, jumping onto a train which is departing. Latika catches up and takes Salim’s hand, but Salim purposely lets go, and she is recaptured by the gangsters as the train accelerates away.

The brothers make a living, travelling on top of trains, selling goods, picking pockets, and cheating naive tourists at the Taj Mahal by pretending to be tour guides. Jamal eventually insists that they return to Mumbai since he wishes to locate Latika, which annoys Salim. They eventually find her, discovering that she had been raised by Maman to be a culturally talented prostitute whose virginity will fetch a high price. The brothers attempt to rescue her, but Maman intrudes, and in the resulting conflict Salim draws a gun and kills Maman. Salim then uses the fact that he killed Maman to obtain a job with Javed (Mahesh Manjrekar), a rival crime lord. Salim returns to the room where the three were staying and orders Jamal to leave. Jamal, knowing his brother is here to claim Latika as his own, attacks his brother violently before being overturned by Salim and confronted by Salim’s revolver with Salim threatening to kill him. Latika intervenes and tells Jamal to leave, breaking his heart and sacrificing herself to keep him safe. With Maman’s men searching for Salim, Salim and Latika flee to an unknown location, leaving Jamal alone to fend for himself.


Screenwriter Simon Beaufoy wrote Slumdog Millionaire based on the Boeke Prize-winning and Commonwealth Writers’ Prize-nominated novel Q & A by Vikas Swarup.[14] To hone the script, Beaufoy made three research trips to India and interviewed street children, finding himself impressed with their attitudes. The screenwriter said of his goal for the script: “I wanted to get (across) the sense of this huge amount of fun, laughter, chat, and sense of community that is in these slums. What you pick up on is this mass of energy.”

By the summer of 2006, British production companies Celador Films and Film4 Productions invited director Danny Boyle to read the script of Slumdog Millionaire. Boyle initially hesitated, since he was not interested in making a film about Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, which was produced by Celador.However, Boyle soon found out that the screenwriter was Beaufoy, who had written The Full Monty (1997), one of the director’s favourite British films, and decided to revisit the script.Boyle was impressed by how Beaufoy wove the multiple storylines from Swarup’s book into one narrative, and the director decided to commit to the project. The film was projected to cost US$15 million, so Celador sought a U.S. distributor to share costs. Fox Searchlight Pictures made an initial offer that was reportedly in the $2 million range, but Warner Independent Pictures made a $5 million offer to win rights to the picture.

Critical reception

Awards and honours

Main article: List of awards and nominations received by Slumdog Millionaire

Slumdog Millionaire is highly acclaimed, named in the top ten lists of various newspapers On 22 February 2009, the film won eight out of ten Academy Awards for which it was nominated, including the Best Picture and Best Director. It is only the eighth film ever to win eight Academy Awards and the eleventh Best Picture Oscar winner without a single acting nomination.

The film also won seven of the eleven BAFTA Awards for which it was nominated, including Best Film; all four of the Golden Globe Awards for which it was nominated, including Best Drama Film; and five of the six Critics’ Choice Awards for which it was nominated.

The much acclaimed title sequence has been honoured by a nomination at the presigious 2009 Rushes Soho Shorts Festival in the ‘Broadcast Design Award’ category in competition with the likes of the Match of the Day Euro 2008 titles by Aardman and two projects by Agenda Collective

Reactions from the Western world

Slumdog Millionaire has been critically acclaimed in the Western world. As of 16 April 2009, Rotten Tomatoes has given the film a 94% rating with 193 fresh and 13 rotten reviews. The average score is 8.2/10 At Metacritic, which assigns a normalised rating out of 100 to reviews from mainstream critics, the film has received an average score of 86, based on 36 reviews. Movie City News shows that the film appeared in 123 different top ten lists, out of 286 different critics lists surveyed, the 3rd most mentions on a top ten list of any film released in 2008.

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