NYU Tisch School Of The Arts Asia
"On the acquisition side, several sellers were gloomy that films weren't igniting bidding wars. Some wondered whether the old indie model -- scrape together financing, and then secure a U.S. distribution deal after a fest opening -- is becoming outmoded."

That's Michael Fleming and Sharon Swart in Variety this week on the Toronto Film Festival, which will wrap up this weekend. Some 140 films are premiering there seeking distribution, and while the true indie business market has been very tough for years, it's even more soft this year. There has been arguably not a bidding war to be found (okay, maybe Tom Ford's A Single Man prompted a small one, but it's not clear), and, even more shockingly, the first deal announced at the festival was not for a Toronto film but for a Sundance premiere that had already been sold! (Antoine Fuqua's Brooklyn's Finest was picked up by Overture after the distributor that bought it in Park City, Senator, melted down.) The days of producers' reps racing through hotel hallways between competing distribs seem to be over for now. For so many indie films, the bar has been raised for a large-scale theatrical distribution deal. Unless a good film screens through the roof and is perceived to be "big," it's IFC or one of the other VOD-enabled distributors.

What felt to me a little different this year, though, was that the filmmakers seem to be realizing this. One sales rep told me there was a sea change in his clients' expectations this year. He said they knew that their fest premiere was the beginning of a long road. Another filmmaker, the veteran of three previous Torontos, joked with me that there was no car driving him around this year and no swag for him and his wife. All this in a year when another buyer told me that he thought there were a lot of great films at the festival. "There are fewer total flame-outs," he told me. "Less of the 'what were they thinking?' and more films that work, are well cast, and could perform well for us." He said this somewhat ruefully, as those artistic flame-outs are often evidence of a risktaking that is needed if independent film is going to offer something different from studio fare.

In the meantime, I hope to see a number of you at the IFP Filmmaker Conference, which begins this Saturday in New York. Filmmaker is sponsoring several of the panels, and I'll be around many of the events so if you are a newsletter reader, stop by and say hi. And, also, if you are not a subscriber please consider becoming one as part of our Filmmaker Magazine Stimulus Plan. You have until September 24 to take advantage of a great subscription deal - $10 for a year of the magazine with our digital edition and all back issues through 2005 free.

See you next week.


Scott Macaulay
Directed by Karyn Kusama (Girlfight) and written by Diablo Cody (Juno), in Jennifer's Body the titular anti-heroine (Megan Fox) is a teenage girl who becomes possessed by a demon through Satanic sacrifice by a rock band, and she then uses her bewitching sexuality to lure and kill her male classmates. It's up to her nerdy, plain-Jane best friend "Needy" (Amanda Seyfried) to stop her killing spree, either by releasing the demon or by killing Jennifer herself. A horror comedy a la Ginger Snaps or Slither, Jennifer's Body manages to play with feminist film theory and conventions of the horror genre while also staying true to a tale of teen girl friendship. Interviewed by Scott Macaulay before showing the film at the Toronto Film Festival, Kusama talks about how she convinced the studio that she could bring Cody's unique script to life. "Because the tone is as tricky as it is, I put together a very expensive book of images that helped people see the direction I wanted to go in so that it felt clearer," she explains. "It is a tricky tonal exercise navigating between three genres: comedy, horror, and teen angst."

From veteran director Claire Denis, 35 Shots of Rum centers on a working-class Parisian family devastated after the loss of their mother/wife. For years, train driver and single dad Lionel (Alex Descas) has raised his daughter Josephine (Mati Diop), and the time is coming for her to achieve independence. Yet the bond is much harder to break than expected. An introspective, deep drama built on ordinary people subtly performed with grace and delicacy, Denis sets her film during a dreary autumn in which her screenplay reveals so much in such minimalist dialogue.

After a five-year long hiatus, Jane Campion (The Piano, Portrait of a Lady) returns with a stunning feature centered on the lives of 19th century poet John Keats (Ben Wishaw) and his lady love Fanny Brawne (Abbie Cornish). Set in 1818 England, Keats and Brawne's love affair slowly builds, to the dismay of Brawne's family, who would prefer her with a solidly middle-class man instead of a penniless poet. Campion's script gives class and gravitas to her characters, revealing Keats as a witty and charming presence, while Brawne is an intelligent and sturdy young woman who does not get carried away by her desires, but becomes an equal match to Keats's stature. Interviewed by Livia Bloom, Campion talks about how her disinterest in bio pics led her to the type of story she wanted to tell. "I hit upon the idea of telling the story from Fanny's point of view, which would set some restrictions," she says. "I said to myself, 'I won't look at anything that she didn't personally know about.' So it's Fanny's Keats, really."

A directorial debut from writer Guillermo Arriaga (21 Grams, Babel), The Burning Plain is a searing drama that explores the aftermath of a murder of an adulterous couple (Kim Basinger, Joaquim de Almeida) and the effects it has on their families, digging into the plotlines of two thinly-connected stories, featuring a young suicidal woman in the city, Sylvia (Charlize Theron) and a Mexican crop duster (Danny Pino) looking for his daughter's mother. A modern western with characters torn between their consciences and actions, The Burning Plain (which is already available on VOD) strikes the audience with a stunning magnetism and emotionally flawed but intriguing characters.


This week on the blog, Jason Guerrasio reports on Criterion's Kurosawa box set, has an exclusive chat with Oren Peli (pictured left), director of the much talked about DIY horror Paranormal Activity, and Livia Bloom reports on the Wavelenghts Program from Toronto (parts 1, 2, 3, 4). Read our full coverage of the Toronto International Film Festival here.

To read more posts from our blog, click here.

IFP's five-day Independent Filmmaker Conference is the event for film and media professionals to learn how today's creative choices and business decisions are impacting tomorrow's artists, industry and audiences. Join 2000 filmmakers, producers, funders, distributors, agents, and buyers to share winning strategies on the art and business of independent filmmaking.

STARTS THIS WEEKEND! Featuring conversations with R.J. Cutler - director of this season's hottest documentary, The September Issue; Mira Nair - award winning director of this fall's Amelia; and Peter Saraf - co-founder/producer of Big Beach Films (Away We Go, Little Miss Sunshine). Industry leaders also include Peter Broderick (Paradigm Consulting), Yance Ford (POV), Ted Hope (This is that), Lynne Kirby (Sundance Channel), Peter Kujawski (Focus Features), Dylan Leiner (Sony Pictures Classics), Andrew Mer (SnagFilms), Craig Parks (IFC), Tom Quinn (Magnolia Pictures), Christine Vachon (Killer Films), and more!

Panelists will offer key advice on: Making Your First Feature, Building an Audience for Your Film, New Digital & Financial Models, Positioning Your Film for Festivals & Buyers, and Strategizing Your Next Career Move. EARLY BIRD PRICES END SOON! Get more info, and purchase passes at www.filmmakerconference.com.

By Nick Dawson

Bob Byington's latest film, Harmony and Me, is an offbeat comedy which was aided by an Annenberg Film Fellowship grant from the Sundance Institute. The film revolves around lovelorn Harmony (Justin Rice, the Bishop Allen frontman and Bujalski regular), who is still recovering from being dumped a year previously by his ex-girlfriend Jessica (Kristin Tucker) – and lets everybody know about it. Trying to help him (or not) recover from his heartbreak are a motley cast of friends and co-workers, and the members of his oddball, dysfunctional family, with Alex Karpovsky, Kevin Corrigan, Pat Healy and Byington himself turning in great performances in these roles. read more


Independent Film Festival of Boston
Submission Deadline: Sept. 30 (early), Dec. 31 (final)
Festival Dates: April 21-28

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Submission Deadline: Oct. 5, Nov. 2 (final)
Festival Dates: March 23-28


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