TORONTO: "Away From Her," "The Prisoner," "El Cantante," And More Purchased at Fest

by | September 16, 2006 | Comments

Picturehouse led the pack of acquisitions at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, nabbing North American rights to "El Cantante," the biopic of Salsa singer Hector Lavoe starring Jennifer Lopez and her husband, Marc Anthony.

El Cantante,” or “The Singer,” tells the tragic tale of troubled Puerto Rican musician Lavoe (Anthony) and his steadfast wife Puchi (Lopez), who navigated the ups and downs of stardom together through the 60s, 70s and 80s. It’s a big, flashy biopic driven by the infectious sounds of Lavoe’s Salsa songs – a pure vanity project, as Anne Thompson aptly writes – and what’s more, J.Lo and Marc Anthony went from just friends to husband-and-wife during pre-production on the film. Add to that a built-in audience, fans of Lavoe and the Nuyorican Salsa movement, and Picturehouse’s reported $6 million buy seems a smart move. The Leon Ichaso-directed flick is expected to hit theaters next summer.

Canadian actress Sarah Polley had her directorial debut, “Away From Her,” premiere in the prestigious Gala program at TIFF; festival buzz pegged it as a hot ticket film. So it came as some surprise when it was picked up – not surprise that it sold, but that genre distributor Lionsgate was the one to seal the deal. “Away From Her” stars Julie Christie as a woman whose loving, longstanding marriage is threatened by her increasing mental deterioration due to Alzheimer’s disease, adapted from a short story by author Alice Munro. Lionsgate plans a spring 2007 release, expected to emulate the year-long Oscar campaign of last year’s winner, “Crash.”

John Waters and "This Filthy World" director Jeff Garlin, whose pic comes courtesy of Netflix’s Red Envelope label

Another planned spring release is “The Prisoner: Or How I Tried To Kill Tony Blair,” from the director of “Gunner Palace.” The visually-enhanced documentary tells the true story of an Iraqi journalist and his two brothers who were held at Abu Graib for nine months, interrogated, and eventually released by the American government. Netflix’s new distribution arm, Red Envelope, bought the pic; with plans to add footage to the now-60-minute film, “The Prisoner” will likely see theaters next spring.

Audiences can also look forward to seeing short film compilation "Paris, Je T’aime" early next year. First Look Pictures purchased North American rights mid-week, as the pic, a seventeen-part ode to Paris dedicated to each one of the cities’ neighborhoods, screened here after debuting in Cannes. Among the many international stars and directors involved are Steve Buscemi, Elijah Wood, Natalie Portman, Bob Hoskins, Catalina Sandino Moreno, Nick Nolte, Ludivine Sagnier, and Maggie Gyllenhaal; and Alfonso Cuaron, Walter Salles, Gurinder Chadha, Nobuhiro Suwa, Wes Craven, Alexander Payne, and the Coen brothers.

The Weinstein Co. snatched up two very different pics earlier in the fest. “Vince Vaughn’s Wild West Comedy Show,” which follows the actor and four comedians on a 30-day stand-up tour, sold for $2.5 million; teen slasher pic “All The Boys Love Mandy Lane” was a pricier deal at $3.5 million, despite a lack of recognizable cast members.

Who will be next to make a deal? Perhaps Paul Verhoeven (here with star Carice Van Houten), whose "Black Book" premiered at Toronto…

Hong Kong director Johnny To had three films in the festival, as his Triad intrigues “Election” and “Election 2” screened together as a Vanguard double feature and “Exiled” played in the Special Presentations category. “Exiled,” received well both at Venice and at Toronto, was sold to Magnolia Pictures and will be released sometime next year.

A number of films closed deals even before the festival began, including the Morgan Freeman starrer, “10 Items Or Less” (THINKFilm); Michael Apted’s 18th century pic, “Amazing Grace” (Samuel Goldwyn Films/Roadside Attractions); “Dixie Chicks – Shut Up And Sing” (The Weinstein Co.); and Werner Herzog’s “Rescue Dawn” (MGM).

Many more festival films are expected to close distribution deals out of their Toronto screenings. Pics by established directors are likely to sell, like Paul Verhoeven’s WWII thriller “Black Book” and Hirokazu Kore-eda’s samurai drama “Hana.” American pics with stars like the Joan Allen-Jessica Lange “Bonneville” and the Reese Witherspoon-Christina RicciPenelope” are also expected to make deals, despite garnering less than stellar, mixed reviews.

For our full Tomatoes in Toronto festival coverage, click here!

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