"The Master" is hoping Toronto attention can add to its awards… (The Weinstein Co )
Ewan McGregor first came to the Toronto International Film Festival in 2007 with Woody Allen's "Cassandra's Dream," and last year he was back at the Canadian cinematic gathering to debut his quirky comedic drama "Salmon Fishing in the Yemen." "Beginners," another film from the prolific actor, also found a buyer after screening in Toronto two years ago. This week, McGregor returns to unveil "The Impossible," a drama from Spanish director Juan Antonio Bayona about a family torn apart by the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.
If "Cassandra's Dream," "Beginners," "Salmon Fishing" and now "The Impossible" represent McGregor's appetite for diverse and challenging projects, the four disparate films are also testament to how the Toronto festival can set a wide variety of movies on a course for commercial and critical success.
The 11-day event comes on the heels of film festivals in Telluride, Colo., and Venice. But Toronto, which opens Thursday with the Joseph Gordon-Levitt time-travel film "Looper," is the juggernaut of the three. Toronto boasts the largest slate of films (close to 400) and significant international media exposure. The event is where many films begin their campaigns for Oscars and other awards, and it's become a significant market for movies looking for distribution.
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McGregor's film will be competing for attention alongside others from some significant heavy-hitters, including Ben Affleck, Tom Hanks and Keira Knightley, to name a few. Affleck directed and stars in the 1970s thriller "Argo," about CIA agents posing as a Hollywood film crew in an effort to rescue U.S. diplomats in Tehran during the Iranian hostage crisis. Hanks takes on six roles from six eras in the film adaptation of David Mitchell's epic novel "Cloud Atlas." And Knightley partners for the third time with director Joe Wright in Tom Stoppard's adaptation of "Anna Karenina."
Warner Bros. is behind both "Argo" and "Cloud Atlas," and the studio's president of marketing, Sue Kroll, said: "Our two movies are very different, but they are the same in delivering a unique moviegoing experience. I think both films will be discovered by audiences and critics and we will be able to start our word-of-mouth marketing. Things will just start percolating."
Many films that come to Toronto require a more nuanced sell than what can be achieved with a 30-second television commercial, so the festival's news conferences, red carpets and other events can generate coverage that helps marketers explain and position their movies during the crowded fall season.
That's certainly the case with "The Master," Paul Thomas Anderson's drama about a charismatic cult leader played by Philip Seymour Hoffman, and his wayward acolyte (Joaquin Phoenix). The film won accolades upon its debut in Venice last weekend, but the Weinstein Co. needs to generate box-office interest ahead of its Sept. 14 general release, and is hoping Toronto attention can add to its awards momentum.
"There's a tremendous, insane energy about Toronto," said Anderson, who will mark his third visit to the festival with "The Master." He previously screened "Boogie Nights" and "Punch Drunk Love" there. "I don't know how you go about choosing which films to see because there is so much, but — and I don't mean this in a bad way — they take prestige out of it and just go for volume and that's a really fun thing. It's like 24-hour movies."
"The Impossible" is another movie with a somewhat challenging subject matter that needs good buzz in Toronto to improve its chances at the box office.
The film, though ultimately uplifting, is a realistic telling of the chaos and terror of the 2004 tsunami, which left close to 300,000 dead. McGregor stars as a husband and father of three young boys caught up in the giant waves; his wife is played by Naomi Watts.
The movie will premiere Sunday in Toronto, three months before Summit Entertainment will open it in U.S. theaters. The actor said he fell in love with the script that evolved out of hours of meetings with a Spanish family whose experiences form the basis of the film.
"There was something really brutal and personal about it," said McGregor. "Although it's an extraordinarily harrowing and harsh situation, for me, it was an opportunity to look at the unique relationship you have with your kids and the lengths you would go to for them if something like this were to happen."
Other films with big names attached are looking for similar breakouts, including "On the Road," Walter Salles' adaptation of the Jack Kerouac novel starring Kristen Stewart, Garrett Hedlund and Sam Riley that screened at Cannes in May. Stewart will be making her first public appearance since she became tabloid fodder following her dalliance with married director Rupert Sanders.