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New technology changes fest experience TIFF lures best of Europe, China directors

TORONTO, Canada, Sept 3, (Agencies): 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.

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“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. “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 Sept 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. 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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LOS ANGELES: New apps and technologies are changing the Toronto Intl. Film Festival — and the way people experience it — in both significant and subtle ways. Now that anyone with a high-end digital camera and a laptop can make a feature, then submit it inexpensively via Without a Box or instantly with a Vimeo screener, fest submissions have jumped 60% (to 5,671 films) since 2005, says TIFF artistic director Cameron Bailey. This led to a 24% jump in programmers (to 21) during the same period, and technology is also allowing audiences to catch up.
 
“Some filmgoers are now creating elaborate spreadsheets to decide what to see and maximize their time,” Bailey says. “With everyone gravitating toward the cloud, people can share these quickly.”TIFF improved its own technology as well, installing an Artifax information processing system in 2011. It has provided a wider range of options and a larger capacity for tracking data on films and individuals, and allows better integration of this info with TIFF’s year-round programming and website. But, as Bailey and others note, the way information is now processed online is just as important.
 
“Hashtags are homing beacons,” says Ray Pride, news editor of Movie City News. “Twitter allows you to immediately contribute to the conversation, and maybe sway it.” This can be crucial in the heat of a bidding war and, as Pride notes, doesn’t just give critics like himself, @aoscott and@erickohn more influence — it allows such distribs as @A24Films to weigh in on the larger film culture. And instead of just letting movies define them, outfits like A24 can use Twitter to brand themselves as quality labels for cineastes.
 
Apps are also making it easier to experience TIFF on the go: Attendees can download the Daily Buzz podcast (soundcloud.com/daily-buzz) for interviews with celebs like Al Pacino, then pay bills at select restaurants with the new Toronto app Tab, saving crucial minutes before screenings and meetings.
To get them there, Uber’s Toronto g.m. Ian Black says the ride service is partnering with Indochino to dress many of its drivers in custom suits for TIFF, and enlisting a luxury automaker to provide some of its cars — not quite the Paris-to-Riviera private jet service it offered during Cannes, but a nice touch. Budget-conscious new users can get $25 in Uber credit when they book housing through Airbnb during TIFF — or they can just use map apps like Waze to walk to theaters.
 
One possible vision of TIFF’s future: at July’s Comic-Con, Nerd Machine’s Nerd HQ app gave access to select events for non-passholders and alerted users when additional tickets to panels became available. But there are tech tales that advise caution: New York Comic Con faced a backlash last fall when it sent automatic tweets from some attendees’ accounts. Whatever lies ahead, technology’s impact on festivals is just starting to really be felt. “Everyone wants a customized experience now. I see people walking around wearing headphones, and it’s clear they want to curate their own content,” Bailey says. “That, I think, is the future. We need to figure out our role, because film festivals should still be shared experiences where people come together.”
 

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