Hollywood migration: From Telluride to Toronto
Finally the endless, over-hyped summer movie season is over and autumn is in the air. It's that time of year when Hollywood migrates to Toronto for a week of intensive filmgoing, hype and salesmanship. In recent years, both the Telluride and Venice film festivals have functioned as early-warning systems for the amount of heat and buzz surrounding films that have been largely unseen until they hit the fall festival circuit.
My colleague John Horn just got back from Telluride, where he sipped tea with "Benjamin Button" director David Fincher, noshed on a burrito with "Slumdog Millionaire" filmmaker Danny Boyle, had cocktails at producers Frank Marshall and Kathy Kennedy's jaw-dropping ranch and nibbled sushi with Mike Leigh, director of the delightful upcoming comedy "Happy Go Lucky." When he wasn't eating his way through the mountain resort, John managed to do a little reporting and see a host of films. I managed to interrupt his post-Telluride fast long enough to ask him a few questions about what the reaction to films at Telluride might tell us about their reception in Toronto. Here's a few highlights:
What are the movies that made the biggest impression in Telluride that are showing in Toronto?
Mostly because of its history, and because it had never shown anywhere else, I'd have to put Danny Boyle's "Slumdog Millionaire" at the top of the list. There are several other impressive Telluride titles that, although they didn't debut in Colorado, are still very much worth seeing in Toronto, or when they come to theaters later this year. "I've Loved You So Long" is a French movie that Sony Pictures Classics picked up out of the Berlin festival; it stars Kristin Scott Thomas (who, with this film and "Tell No One," is becoming one of the best actresses in France going, even though she's English!) and is very well made. "Gomorrah" was at Cannes and Telluride and IFC Films will be releasing soon. It's an often troubling look at Italian thugs working in toxic waste disposal and garment manufacturing (who knew there were crooked seamstresses?). Martin Scorsese recently watched it, and "Gomorrah's" director told me in Telluride that he apparently liked it.
Why were there so few American-made movies in Telluride? Will there be more American films in Toronto?
The festival's programmers, Tom Luddy and Gary Meyer, said it was pretty simple: There weren't enough good American films available. They attributed this in part to delays caused by the 100-day Writers Guild strike, but I think the real question is whether or not there will be enough quality films around later in the year. In years past, Telluride has had movies such as "Juno," "Capote," "Brokeback Mountain," "Walk the Line" and "The Last King of Scotland." I can't say there were any equivalents this year, outside of "Slumdog Millionaire."
"Slumdog Millionaire" has become something of a cause celebre. It was a huge critical hit in Telluride and it's coming to Toronto. How could a studio like Warners look at that movie and want to dump it? What does that say about today's studios?
That's a great question. There's no question it's a tricky sell: It's a sometimes violent look at a teenager from the slums of Mumbai, and much of the dialogue is in Hindi. That said, having read Simon Beaufoy's script beforehand, it's exactly the movie Boyle intended to make. If you're a movie distributor and this film comes in the door, it seems like you would want to find a way to release it, rather than what Warners did, which was to look for a way to unload it. Fox Searchlight appears to be very happy that it is now distributing the film.
You talked to a bunch of acquisition execs today about the movies available for sale in Toronto. Based on what the execs told you, how would you rank them in order of commercial appeal?
1. "Management." Stars Jennifer Aniston. And it's a comedy.
2. "The Burning Plain." From "Babel" screenwriter Guillermo Ariaga, and doesn't sound nearly as bleak. Stars Charlize Theron.
3. "I Love You Philip Morris." There's some footage of this Jim Carrey gay love story (!) being shown to buyers, even though the film is not in the festival.
4. "Is There Anybody There" and "Lovely, Still." Last year's "Away From Her" proved there's an audience for movies about the elderly. The first stars Michael Caine, the second Ellen Burstyn.
5. "The Wrestler." Mickey Rourke in the roll he was born to play: an over-the-hill wrestler. Directed by Darren Aronofsky.
Photo of Danny Boyle by Kim Kulish / For The Times