We take a look at the movies picked up by Australian distributorsat the recent Toronto International Film Festival.
5 Oct 2012 - 11:39 AM  UPDATED 5 Oct 2012 - 11:39 AM

Actor John Turturro is gearing up to direct Fading Gigolo from mid-October in New York and also has the title role in the comedy alongside Sofía Vergara, Sharon Stone and Woody Allen. Allen had a lot of input into Turturro's script, which he first heard about from their barber, before agreeing to be involved. Usually he only acts in his own films.

Fading Gigolo is one of two highly anticipated films, still a long way off completion, which Transmission Films has bought for Australia. The other is Lars von Trier's Nymphomaniac, in which Charlotte Gainsbourg's character Joe tells her (erotic) life story to the charming bachelor (Stellan Skarsgård) who finds her beaten up in an alley. Two versions are planned, one hardcore.

The negotiations began at last month's Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). Distributors often acquire films on the strength of their scripts and creative teams, usually behind closed doors at A-list festivals.

Many finished films, of course, were also acquired for Australia at TIFF, which had nearly 300 features in its program. Those decisions will help determine what Australians get to see on the big screen over the next 18 months.

Transmission also bought two titles that were in official selection: Noah Baumbach's Frances Ha, about a group of wayward 20-somethings surviving in New York, and French director François Ozon's In the House (left), about a 16-year-old literature student who writes essays about another student's life for his French teacher. Kristin Scott Thomas is in the cast and on the weekend it won the top prize at the San Sebastian Film Festival.

Nicolas Whatson of Palace Films picked up two documentaries: Stories We Tell, Sarah Polley's first full-length non-fiction film, which takes a look at memory and truth through the eyes of one family, and Peter Mettler's The End of Time, “basically Baraka with brains”.

“It was arguably one of the best-received films of the entire festival… and is a phenomenal, ground-breaking piece of filmmaking that will hit audiences in the gut,” Whatson said of the Polley project.

Distributors think long and hard before buying documentary as the cinema is a very competitive environment. That said, Madman also brought home two documentaries for Australia: Love, Marilyn, a look at the real Marilyn Monroe, who died 50 years ago last month, and Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God, Alex Gibney's documentary on the disturbing topic of paedophilia and the Catholic Church.

Madman also acquired Choi Dong-hoon's The Thieves, an action caper about a casino diamond heist that was a smash hit at home in South Korea, the Irish drama What Richard Did, about a golden boy whose whole world unravels due to one terrible incident, and What Maisie Knew (right), a contemporary version of a Henry James novel about a family falling apart, starring Julianne Moore, but told from the point of view of a young girl.

German drama Barbara, Susanne Bier's romantic comedy Love is All You Need, The Hunt, which earned Mads Mikkelsen the best actor award at Cannes, and Robert Redford's new political thriller The Company You Keep, all screened at Toronto, but Madman had acquired them all prior.

Strategic haggling between buyers and sellers is inevitable on some titles, especially if a lot of competition is pushing up the price.

Rialto spent up big at Toronto but two of the films had already screened at Venice, including Mira Nair's opening night title The Reluctant Fundamentalist, and Fill the Void, a behind-closed-doors look at an Orthodox Jewish community that earned Hadas Yaron the best actress award.

Brandon (son of David) Cronenberg's Antiviral (right) premiered even earlier at Cannes in May, another indication of how long it takes to close deals sometimes. Fans eat the cloned flesh of celebrities and have it grafted onto them in this confronting film that riffs on the world's mania for celebrity. It shared the award for best Canadian first feature.

Rialto boss Kelly Rogers said he met Viggo Mortensen in Toronto and invited him to come to Australia to promote the crime thriller Everybody Has a Plan – and the answer was “yes”. Mortensen plays two roles, being identical twins, and Rogers said it is a superb performance.

The films in Rialto's shopping bag that actually premiered at TIFF were: Neil Jordan's Byzantium, the thinking person's vampire epic about a mother and daughter who have been on the run for two centuries; The Patience Stone, Afghan author Atiq Rahimi's adaptation of his own novel about a woman who tells her husband her frustrations while he is in a coma; and Blancanieves, Pablo Berger's Spanish version of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.

“It is heartbreakingly beautiful and intense filmmaking and will be a festival favourite,” Rogers said of The Patience Stone. “Blancanieves is absolutely enchanting, gorgeously shot, a very emotional interpretation of the story and set in 1920s Spain. It is a silent black and white film with a great score – and it's better than The Artist.”

One of Australia's newest distributors, Curious Films, has just picked up veteran director Margarethe von Trotta's latest film, Hannah Arendt (left). The film dramatises four years in the life of the German-Jewish political theorist and academic named in the title, in particular her work reported on the trial of Adolf Eichmann, who was hanged in 1962 for genocide against Jews during World War II. Barbara Sukowa, a regular collaborator of von Trotta's, plays Arendt, and Von Trotta has used footage from the actual trial. Filming occurred in Germany, Jerusalem and Luxemborg.

Two significant Australian distributors, Roadshow and Hopscotch, didn't pick up anything new at TIFF but did get to see several films for the first time that they'd already decided to take a risk on in the competitive Australian marketplace.

In Roadshow's case there was The Place Beyond the Pines, starring Ryan Gosling as a motorcycle stunt rider and bank robber, Silver Linings Playbook, which won the people's choice award and is about a man's slow recovery from a meltdown, and Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master, which looks like being one of the award season's stand out hits and stars Joaquin Phoenix.

For eOne/Hopscotch there was the “old-fashioned English weepy”, Song For Marion, starring Terence Stamp and Vanessa Redgrave, A Late Quartet, which has a powerhouse cast and tells how the 25th anniversary celebrations of a string quartet acts as a flashpoint for the musicians, and the comedy Seven Psychopaths, from the team that made In Bruges and was judged top 'midnight madness' film by audiences. Christopher Walken is in both Quartet and Psychopaths.

But the new acquisition that Hopscotch head Troy Lum talked most animatedly about was Wadjda (pictured, top), which screened at Venice and Telluride. While Australians will now have the opportunity to see Wadjda on the big screen because of Lum, those living in Saudi Arabia, where the film was made, will not because there are no cinemas operating in that country. Lum says this could mean that the first full-length feature entirely made in Saudi Arabia is not eligible for foreign language Oscar consideration because films have to be released in their local market in order to be eligible.

The drama is told from the viewpoint of a 10-year-old tomboy who desperately wants her own bicycle. The film also has the distinction of being directed by Saudi's only female feature film director, Bahrain-based Haifaa Al Mansour, who once lived in Sydney. She was given permission from the authorities to make the film but directed some of the scenes via walkie-talkie so she wasn't in the public eye.

“It is a wonderful film and literally lifts the veil on what life is like for women in Saudi,” Lum told SBS Film.