It’s a wrap! For a “non-competitive” film festival, the Toronto International Film Festival handed out plenty of prizes at its star-studded Awards Brunch this past Sunday.
TIFF’s reputation was established as one of the five most important film events of the year because of its great audiences and their People’s Choice Awards presage major Academy Award buzz. The People’s Choice Award this year went to “La La Land” starring Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone and directed by Damien Chazelle whose 2013 “Whiplash” about a ferocious, bullying music teacher teaching a dedicated student was such a hit.
You can read Indiewire’s full review of the “La La Land” here; Eric Kohn says it is “carved from the legacies of Vincente Minnelli, Jacques Demy, and … is magically in tune with its reference points.”
Lionsgate will release this film in the U.S. and U.K. in 2017. International sales agent Summit (Lionsgate) thus far has licensed it to distributors
Every People’s Choice Award winner since 2008, except for “Where Do We Go Now?” in 2011, has been nominated for Best Picture. “Slumdog Millionaire,” “The King’s Speech” and “12 Years a Slave” won the Oscar for Best Picture. “Room,” last year’s People’s Choice was nominated for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Actress which was bestowed upon Brie Larson, her very first such Oscar.
People’s Choice runner-ups included “Lion” being touted as The Weinstein’s Company next bid for an Oscar and Disney’s “Queen of Katwe”, Mira Nair’s Ugandan girl chess champion film.
Armie Hammer at the "Free Fire" red carpet.
Other People’s Choice winners from this year include Ben Wheatley’s “Free Fire” for Midnight Madness and Raoul Peck’s “I Am Not Your Negro” for Documentary. Talk about “Free Fire” came up four times in three days in various contexts I was having around the festival, so I knew it was worth catching, though I have not yet seen it.
James Baldwin, pictured in the middle.
“I Am Not Your Negro” was number one on my “must-see” list going in and so I did see this marvel. Told in the words of James Baldwin himself (as spoken by Samuel Jackson), his contemplations on USA, its racial and racists aspects, accompanied by footage of himself on TV talk shows and at conferences in the 1960s and as the friend of the three martyrs of 20th Century America, Medgar Evers, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X; using historical footage and movies (such as “The Searchers” where John Wayne plays the hero as he shoots down Indians as if they were targets in a video game); this is a film to see over and over, to study along with the extended aspects of Baldwin’s past as an expat in Paris from 1949 until the 1961 when he realized he had to return to the States to fight the injustices which have culminated in today’s Black Lives Matter Movement.
I must revisit his novel Giovanni’s Room, one of the first literate gay novels (1958), The Fire Next Time which, as a summation of race relations to that point in time, said it all for me when I read it in1964; and one of the inspirations for my own life, 1955’s Notes of a Native Son which a fellow French student introduced me to during my sophomore year at Berkeley before I took off for my own junior year abroad in Paris where we retraced Baldwin’s footsteps. He had been there only two years before and we felt his vibrations throughout Paris but especially at Le Danton with Rudy the young African-American expat, Le Mazet with Eduardo Dudley of Panama and Le Foyer Israelite where among the sub-Saharan Africans I held many conversations and explored just what race relations in the USA were about. The successor of Richard Wright, Baldwin speaks my language.
James Baldwin left his papers and his unfinished manuscript Remember This House to filmmaker Raoul Peck (“Moloch Tropical”, “Murder in Pacot”) who wrote and directed this masterpiece. “I Am Not Your Negro” changes the game for those who see it. Look for it around the world as word of it travels. It is being released in USA by Magnolia. International sales agent is Wide House and I know the American Film Festival in Wroclaw, Poland is going after it for this coming November. I hope I can see it there with a Polish audience.
This film is the most important film about race relations in the United States since Stanley Nelson’s 2014 doc “Freedom Summer”. Those two are the most important African American documentaries of the first two decades of the 21st Century.
Read my blog on Stanley Nelson and “Freedom Summer” here.
Here are some of my personal standouts which have taken prizes:
The International Critics (FIPRESCI Prize) Award went to Discovery Section’s “Kati Kati”. Swahili and English language film, “Kati Kati”, was indeed my own personal discovery of the festival as well. First time filmmaker from Kenya, writer- director Mbithi Masya, won the Tom Twyker lab award to make a film under $1 million which he had to write and make in three months and which had to take place in one location. Mbithi, who has produced music videos and advertisements, is creating a new film language to portray the African people. In this film, black-on-blue creates a particular moodiness as a group of people find themselves in a sort of purgatory where they must come to terms with their death before moving on to the next stage of their journey. Leading actress Nyokabi Gethalga was first seen in my favorite black feature of 2010 “I Am Slave”.
Nyokabi Gethaiga in “Kati Kati”
International sales agent Rushlake Media, founded in 2014 by Philippe Hoffmann, previously head of marketing at The Match Factory, is uniquely positioned in the market as a specialist in digital distribution with a focus on the African market. His Locarno film “Cahier Africain” by Heidi Specogna was reviewed by me here. Rushlake represents the entire Tom Tykwer catalog of his African workshopped films, an intiative Tykwer has been running through One Fine Day Films since 2008 to support African filmmakers telling African stories.
The other Prize of the International Critics (FIPRESCI Prize) for Special Presentations Section went to “I Am Not Madame Bovary,” Feng Xiaogang.
Dropbox Discovery Filmmakers Award went to “Jeffrey” by Yanillys Perez. Jeffrey, who christens himself “La Pesadilla” (“The Nightmare”) is a 12-year-old limpiavidrio, one of numerous kids working the streets of Santo Domingo who approach cars stopped for red lights at intersections and proceed to clean their windshields without permission, in the hopes of obtaining a tip from the drivers inside. He dreams of being a reggaeton singer, following in the footsteps of one of his older brothers and decides to design and make colorful cardboard signs to go out to streets and hand out his music CDs in order to be discovered. In the process we discover him and a new world opens to us. Yes, this is a discovery worth making.
Scene from "Jeffrey"
Platform Prize: “Jackie” by Pablo Larrian whose previous two films “Neruda” and “No” have achieved the pinnacles of success making him one of our greatest contemporary masters. went to Fox Searchlight for No. America who beat out bids from Netflix and Amazon. Tipping the scales in its favor was that it had a first and last look deal for the picture. CAA sold it for over $10 million, some say $12.5 million.
Short Cuts Award For Best Short Film went to Raymund Ribay Gutierrez’s “Imago”. The jury remarked, “Some films are not easy to watch. But it's a beautiful thing to find a filmmaker who has a daring voice. We feel that with this movie we witnessed a bold, cinematic statement, and we cannot wait to see what features this director will give to the world.” The award offers a $10,000 cash prize.
Short Cuts Award For Best Canadian Short Film went Alexandre Dostie’s “Mutants”. “A ribald lyricism, awkward moments of sexual awakening paired with self cannibalism and self immolation … a film that takes chances with both its subject matter and humor, framed through the eyes of children.” The award offers a $10,000 cash prize.
Imagine the 5,500 industry delegates at TIFF including more than 2,000 buyers - 750 of whom came for the first time and an additional 1,300 media as well as 900 film-making and acting talents mixing and matchmaking and you begin to see how busy TIFF is as a marketplace beyond the festival.
There were 38 countries with stands at the Industry Center, double the number of 2015. New countries with stands were Austria, Belgium, China, Croatia, Czech Republic, Estonia, Greece, Ireland, Israel, Jamaica, Lithuania, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Nigeria, Poland, Portugal and Slovenia.
My favorite hangout during this fest was the Jamaican stand. Former TIFF Industry organizer, and now Film Commissioner for Jamaica, Renee Robinson was there with 20 Jamaican cineastes. Four of them became my friends. The young Damien “LoOKYah” Baddy, a 26-year-old USA transplant, raised in Washington D.C. by an American father and a Jamaican mother returned ten years ago to the motherland and is looking for the best way to establish his multi-faceted filmmaking talent.
Zachary with a plan as big as this world and a film already with Will Smith’s new low budget production company was there laying groundwork for his new film initiative, and Paul Bucknor, producer of “The Full Monty” -- don’t forget it was also a successful musical -- was in Toronto putting out his favorite script, one of the four he has written these years in Jamaica where he has since married and raised four kids…and finally the nuts and bolts producer of the country, Delano Forbes, Creative Director and CEO of Phase 3 Productions.
Overall, industry delegates from 83 countries came to TIFF. Territories with the highest growth in registrants were the Middle East (44%) and Central America (28%).
Buyers quietly and diligently did their buying, often excluding press buzz in the dealmaking. These deals, made during these increasingly intense ten days at TIFF, point the way to the next round of theatrical releases for film aficionados to anticipate in 2017.
“Colossal” an offbeat monster movie starring Anne Hathaway was acquired by Tom Quinn and Tim League’s as-yet-unnamed company backed by an unspecified Chinese-based media company. Other festival acquisitions include Netflix taking “Message From the King” and “Justin Timberlake + Tennessee Kids”, a doc by Jonathan Demme.
Justin Timberlake at the premiere of his concert film
XLrator Media acquired U.S. rights to Academy Award nominee Werner Herzog’s “Salt and Fire”. IFC acquired North American rights to “The Bleeder” starring Liev Schreiber, Elisabeth Moss and Naomi Watts. Music Box acquired Terence Davies’ “A Quiet Passion”. Gravitas Ventures acquired “American Anarchist”.
Tajj Media has set up a U.S. distribution company for Cannes Director’s Fortnight film “Two Lovers and a Bear” on the heels of its North American premiere at TIFF with Fox taking home entertainment rights and Netflix releasing early 2017.
“The Lost City of Z” starring Charlie Hunnam went to Bleecker Street for a North American theatrical release a week after Amazon acquired it for over 8 figures. Amazon’s marketing and distribution guru Bob Berney will oversee its theatrical release. Sierra/ Affinity which introduced it in Berlin is selling the remaining territories in TIFF. It will premiere at the New York Film Festival this October.
“David Lynch” The Art Life” which premiered in Venice, went to Amazon and Janus for a spring theatrical release and a premiere on Amazon Prime. Soda picked it up for U.K. from Film Constellation. In Europe, distribution rights were licensed to NFP in Germany, Potemkin Films in France, Vertigo in Spain, Wanted Cinema in Italy, Angel Films in Scandinavia, Midas Films in Portugal and Fabula in Turkey, while Canada, Australia and Japan are in negotiation, among other territories.
Magnolia Pictures acquired North American rights to Raoul Peck’s “I Am Not Your Negro”. GKIDS has acquired North American rights to “My Life As a Zucchini” (original French language title “Ma vie de Courgette”). “Layla M”, a Dutch film by Mijke de Jong is being considered by many U.S. distributors.
Katherine Drumm, the new head of TIFF Industry hosted tours I gave to filmmakers new to the scene. Moreover she says, “we held four editions of Breakfast at TIFF: Canada Meets Latin America and Spain - Doing Business with Germany - ARRI's International Support Program - and Celebrating National Agencies.
We ran five Connections events, bringing together producers, filmmakers and industry experts at sessions focused on women, documentary, VR, short films, and Nigerian cinema.
Our new International Actors Programme was presented in collaboration with the Casting Society of America, providing an introduction to the North American marketplace, as well as networking with industry experts and special guests. Nine actors participated: Caren Pistorius (NZ), Constance Rousseau (France), Ellie Kendrick (England), Fionn O'Shea (Ireland), Kimberly Patterson (Jamaica), Kristoffer Bech (Denmark), Oona Airola (Finland) and Petr Fedorov (Russia).
A vibrant networking hub was created, offering a Business Center, digital screening library, live-feed to the Conference, and Talent Lounge.
During the seven-day Conference, industry professionals gathered to gain insight on the pressing issues being faced in film, as well as to hear from cinematic masters, creative innovators, business visionaries and industry power-players.
In a new collaboration, The Guardian TIFF Talks delivered exclusive Q&As with some of the most notable actors and directors at the Festival from A United Nation, The Bad Batch and Christine.
Themes of diversity and inclusion were highlighted throughout the Conference. Prominent speakers included Cheryl Boone Isaacs, Anna Serner, Roberto Olla, Rob Reiner, Ewan McGregor, Feng Xiaogang, Jill Soloway and Raoul Peck.
Intrigued? Check out the TIFF Industry Conference sessions on our YouTube Channel.
About Sydney Levine:
Sydney Levine is an executive of longstanding in the international film business. She is a writer of the popular blog on international film business, SydneysBuzz which also has run on Indiewire, IMDbPro and IMDb since 2008 when Amazon acquired her twenty-five year old company FilmFinders. In 1988 Sydney created FilmFinders, the industry’s first database of worldwide features used by distributors, sales agents and festival programmers acquiring features. It became industry standard for organizing and tracking the rights-buying activities of the film business and was adopted by the Cannes Marché and developed into what today is called Cinando.com. She and her partner, Peter Belsito continue to provide consulting and strategic planning for producers, national film organizations and other educational initiatives in international film business at Cannes, Toronto, Sundance, Germany's Deutsche Welle Akademie, Talents in Berlin, Sarajevo, and Guadalajara, EICTV the international film school in Los Banos, Cuba, Chapman University, UCLA Extension, Vilnius University, et. al. She organizes, moderates and participates in panel discussions on the international film business, as well as producing white paper research and reports on SydneysBuzz.com. Sydney works with the markets in Cannes and Berlin in administering buyers’ data for North America, Latin America and Asia and gives tours of the market to newcomers. She opens the Cannes Shorts Corner with a presentation on The International Film Circuit for shorts. She has currently completed a book about Latin American Film Financing published in Spanish by the Guadalajara University Press. The English version on the Iberoamerican Film Business will be published in the fall of 2016.