Toronto festival lures best of Europe, China filmmakers

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Chinese director Zhang Yimou
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The Toronto film festival will trumpet European and Asian filmmakers when it opens Thursday as audiences increasingly demand the best new films from around the world.

Organizers spent much of the past year wooing filmmakers outside of North America who might normally premiere films in their own region, in order to meet that demand.

Significant European filmmakers agreed to premiere their films in Toronto, including "Phoenix," "A Second Chance," "The New Girlfriend" featuring rising French star Anais Demoustier, Lone Scherfig's "The Riot Club," and Norwegian master Bent Hamer's "1001 Grams."

As well, top Chinese filmmakers such as Zhang Yimou ("Coming Home"), Ning Hao ("Breakup Buddies"), Peter Chan ("Dearest") and Wang Xiaoshuai ("Red Amnesia") are expected to grace the red carpet here.

"It's natural for filmmakers to think within their immediate country or region," festival boss Cameron Bailey said in an interview with AFP.

"Certainly North Americans and Europeans have done that for many years," he said.

Beyond Berlin, Cannes

"I think a lot of the European art-house filmmakers saw their cinema as primarily a European phenomena that operated within a circuit in Europe from film festival launches, to release to critics' reviews," Bailey said.

"But it's now an international marketplace. Audiences globally are increasingly plugged in, and people have more access to films from around the world than they used to, and I think filmmakers are cognizant of that.

"Christian Petzold ("Phoenix") who might typically launch a film in Berlin or Susanne Bier ("A Second Chance") or others, I think it's a sign of the growing globalization of the film industry that they're looking beyond their borders to try to reach as much of the world as they can."

The Toronto film festival, which gets under way on September 4 and runs through September 14, will showcase 268 feature films, including 143 world premieres, from 70 countries.

"For us, this is a year of discovery," Bailey said. "There are 85 first features in the festival, which is an unusual number."

These include Ross Katz's "Adult Beginners," Sarah Leonor's "The Great Man," Batin Ghobadi's "Mardan," Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy's "The Tribe," and Ken Kwek's "Unlucky Plaza."

The festival noted that Christopher Nolan, whose films have grossed over $3.5 billion, and Steve McQueen both presented their first features in Toronto.

Last year, McQueen's violent historical drama "12 Years a Slave" was awarded the audience prize for best film in Toronto.

His adaptation of the 1853 memoir of Solomon Northup, a free African American kidnapped into slavery, went on to win three Academy Awards.

Though it does not award a jury prize like at Cannes or Venice, the Toronto film festival has traditionally been a key event for Oscar-conscious studios and distributors, and attracts hundreds of filmmakers and actors to its red carpet.

This year's lineup includes celebrities such as Jennifer Aniston, John Cusack, Robert Downey Jr., Tina Fey, Al Pacino, Adam Sandler and John Travolta.

China cinema rising

Alongside new films from China and Taiwan such as "Don't Go Breaking My Heart 2," "The Golden Era," "I am Here," "Partners in Crime" and "Journey to the West," the festival will also host an Asian film summit.

Bailey said he and his team spent "a lot of time in China this year... to try to find out what is going on in terms of the Chinese film culture, the changes there."

In the coming years, he predicted that Chinese film audiences will surpass North America at the box office. "They're building cinemas like crazy in China," he said.

Chinese directors can usually make up a film's budget by releasing it only locally, but more and more they are showing up at international film festivals to meet the media and secure international distribution deals.

"If you are only making movies for your own domestic audience you can start to feel a bit cut off from the rest of the world," Bailey explained.

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