Filmmaker Lodge Kerrigan and actor Damian Lewis were talking with reporters about their film "Keane" at a breakfast reception, while in the background the film's sales agent, Andrew Hurwitz, paced. And paced. It was the itchy wait for the all-important phone call that would mean a sale for their film.
It was the kind of tense and hopeful moment experienced by filmmakers all around the city this week. Because here -- unlike in Cannes, Sundance and Venice, where juries divide prizewinners from losers -- the individual deal is the prize. As the festival concludes today, dozens of deals have been made, but as of yesterday morning, "Keane's" call had not come.
"Sometimes we play a waiting game," said one buyer, who didn't want to be identified while distribution deals were still being made. There were a number of films still in play, he said, and many buyers don't feel pressure to buy before the flight out. He had no doubt, however, that "Keane" -- the story, well received by critics and audiences, of a desperate man trying to deal with the loss of a daughter who disappeared under his watch -- would be picked up.
This year's festival, which featured 328 films from 61 countries, looked to be another good one, both for distribution deals and for quality films, portending a healthy season for moviegoers in the coming two years.
Sony Pictures Classics, a ministudio led by Michael Barker and Tom Bernard that seems to have won festival big fish status over Miramax, picked up American rights to Kim Ki-duk's "3-Iron," a Korean film that took four prizes at Venice last weekend, and Jan Hrebejk's "Up and Down," a Czech drama about class, race and global migration set in Prague. The studio also caused a critical buzz with "Kung Fu Hustle," an energetic, relentlessly entertaining comedy from Stephen ("Shaolin Soccer") Chow, due to open next year.
Focus Features, another indie powerhouse, picked up rights to Pawel Pawlikowski's "My Summer of Love," a movie that has enjoyed wide acclaim here. HBO Films and Fine Line Features (which have partnered on a string of successes, including the recent "Maria Full of Grace") have acquired Lucrecia Martel's "The Holy Girl," a story of a religious girl who tries to redeem a perverted middle-aged man. And Newmarket scooped up Lukas Moodysson's "A Hole in My Heart," a graphic story about the efforts of an amateur pornographer to make a sex film.
Other festival audience hits, such as Paul Haggis's "Short Cuts"-style ensemble drama "Crash," were snapped up by Lions Gate.
Toronto also brings the best of Cannes to North America. Most of the films that won prizes or stirred strong response at the French festival have found their way here. Washington's indie-supportive cinemas can look forward to such Cannes and Toronto-tested films as Walter Salles's engaging travelogue "The Motorcycle Diaries," drawn from the journals of Che Guevara when he took a road trip through South America as a young man; Zhang Yimou's visually awesome martial arts drama "House of Flying Daggers"; Senegalese filmmaker Ousmane Sembene's hypnotic allegory "Moolaade"; Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda's "Nobody Knows," an understated heartbreaker about a family of kids forced to take care of themselves; and Jonathan Caouette's agonizing home-movie autobiography "Tarnation."
Even huddled in dark screening rooms a country away, there's no hiding from presidential election hoopla. Audiences packed in to see George T. Butler's documentary, "Going Upriver: The Long War of John Kerry," scheduled to open Oct. 1 in Washington. The partisan film (Butler is a close friend of Kerry's) seeks to counter Republican caricatures of Kerry as a flip-flopper by casting him as a valiant gunboat commander who led sailors through free-fire zones, then matured into a philosophical leader. In an excerpt from Richard Nixon's White House conversations, the former president rues that a young man who has just testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee seems "excellent" and "effective." White House Chief of Staff H.R. Haldeman concurs, remarking that the speaker "looks like a Kennedy and he feels exactly like a Kennedy."
In Oliver Hirschbiegel's "Downfall," Adolf Hitler is back in all his splenetic glory, one hand twitching behind his back nervously, as Germany crumbles around him. It's remarkable for at least two reasons: Swiss-born actor Bruno Ganz gives a memorable performance as Hitler, a figure of gentility with the women in his immediate circle and, as the Russians advance on Berlin, one of increasing irrationality and desperation. Second, the film, which doesn't hesitate to lay blame at its country's feet, has fueled controversy in Germany. Ganz's Hitler -- before he commits suicide -- speaks with pride of his all-but-eradication of the Jewish people of Europe. And Hitler's propagandist and right-hand man Joseph Goebbels (played by Ulrich Matthes) declares he feels "no sympathy" for the German people, who face unspeakable horrors from Allied bombings and Soviet brutality: "They gave us the mandate." Hirschbiegel said at a reception before the movie's gala presentation: "I cannot tell you to enjoy this film. That would not be appropriate. But I hope you will find it interesting."
The distant rumble of war and its aftermath in Afghanistan and Iraq could be heard in at least two original and bold films. Written and directed by women, both examine the ripple effect of ideological warfare on relationships between men and women.
In Sally Potter's "Yes," an American woman (Joan Allen) languishing in her marriage in London responds to romantic overtures from a chef (Simon Abkarian), who was a surgeon in his native Lebanon. Their affair becomes an involved debate between Christian and Islamic sensibilities as their passion leads to the deeper philosophical issues dividing them. Even more intriguing, Potter (best known for the film "Orlando") has the characters speak in rhymed couplets -- which Allen and Abkarian perform without stage theatrics. It's as if Ingmar Bergman, William Shakespeare and Dr. Seuss had collaborated on an antiwar project. (Potter started writing the script days after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.)
And in Susanne Bier's Dogme 95-influenced "Brothers," which she co-wrote with Anders Thomas Jensen, a Danish soldier, Michael (Ulrich Thomsen) is sent to Afghanistan, where he is almost immediately captured by Taliban soldiers. Michael does not dare recount the emotionally brutal experience to his wife, Sarah (Connie Nielsen). Meanwhile, Sarah -- who had been led to believe her husband had perished -- has already shifted her heart toward Michael's wayward brother, Jannick (Nikolaj Lie Kaas). The three-way tension that unfolds with further violence is testament to the ripples of war, perhaps never quieted.