TIFF's Day 5: Lights Out, Deals On

The Lightbox goes dark, deals heat up, and kinky sex makes for a fun documentary

The TIFF Bell Lightbox complex has now been open for one day, and that’s all it took for (minor) calamity to strike.

After 11 p.m. on Friday night, about ten minutes before the end of the premiere of Werner Herzog’s documentary “Cave of Forgotten Dreams,” about ancient cave paintings in Southern France (below), the screen suddenly went black. After an awkward pause, the audience applauded, the lights came on and a staffer explained that the theater was having technical problems.

Chauvet caveThe film started up again within about five minutes, and at the end of the screening TIFF documentary programmer Thom Powers explained that the problem was not restricted to the Herzog film.

“It was actually a power problem with the entire building,” he said. “It happened to every theater, not just us.”

In fact, Powers was mistaken. According to a Herzog aide who looked into the problem, it was caused when staffers routinely powered-down the building's large air conditioning unit at the end of the day. Because a 3D projector needs to put out additional light and runs hotter and brighter than a typical projector, turning off the AC instantly triggered a shutoff switch designed to keep the projector from overheating. 

Apart from those growing pains, the Lightbox got generally high marks after its first day of screenings. Its theaters are smaller than the ones in the nearby Scotiabank multiplex – and in contrast to that sharply raked stadium-seating layout, Lightbox has a more gentle slope, though sightlines do not seem to be a problem.

Theater 1, at least, is clearly designed with Q&As and panels in mind, with an intimate feel and good-sized stage in front of the screen.

The nicest part: the Lightbox is a classy-looking building with a smart, subdued feeling – a far cry from the garish Scotiabank, with its flashing lights, endless escalators and ring of fast-food joints dominating the lobby.

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While the Herzog film was the top doc premiere of the day, Errol Morris’ “Tabloid” got plenty of attention at its first press and industry screening in the morning. TheWrap will have more about the film, as well as a conversation with Morris; for now, suffice it to say that the film is one of the most playful and weirdest docs in years. And with this story, the tale of the former beauty queen arrested for kidnapping her Mormon boyfriend and engaging in kinky sex that might have qualified as rape, he doesn’t have to force the viewer to play guessing games the way, say, Casey Affleck did with the Joaquin Phoenix doc “I’m Still Here.”

Jeff Wells, for one, thinks “Tabloid” is one of the four “triple-A rated” Toronto films he’s seen. The other three, he says, are “The King’s Speech,” “Black Swan” and “Let Me In.”

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While many high-profile films had their official public TIFF debuts on Monday – the list includes “Black Swan,” “Miral,” “The Whistleblower,” “Another Year,” “Let Me In,” “Rabbit Hole” and “Cave of Forgotten Dreams” – attention is also turning increasingly to acquisitions, with a few deals coming through and potential pickups becoming a hot topic of conversation.

Filmakers, publicists and agents anxiously text and email to get the latest news from press & industry screenings. How many people did we have this morning? Okay, that’s not bad for a Monday morning … Magnolia and IFC already came to our public screening last night, so that’s good … I hear Relativity walked out after 10 minutes. Yeah, but it’s not their kind of movie anyway … Harvey Weinstein’s having lunch at the Four Seasons? Why did he change to a bigger table, and who’s that he’s with? … Is “Incendies” going to be Sony Classics’ one acquisition, or will they be looking for more? … Of course the Redford is going to sell, but what company is the right fit?

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As time goes on, the festival’s geographic split is getting more pronounced. The vast majority of screenings are downtown; the talent, and the companies, are further north in Yorkville, where the festival used to be centered and where the hotels, for the most part, are fancier.

Are things likely to change as TIFF settles into its downtown headquarters? Or is the business too wedded to the Four Seasons and the Intercontinental and the Windsor Arms and the Park Hyatt?

For now, the smart money says the companies will stay in Yorkville, at least for a while. But maybe smaller companies, or smaller movies, will move downtown. Actress Shannon Woodward’s experience might be revealing: she’s here with the low-budget indie “Girlfriend,” which is looking for distribution and is headquartered downtown. But her boyfriend happens to be Andrew Garfield, who was in town for “Never Let Me Go,” the Fox Searchlight release that is one of the festival’s most high-profile projects.

For the first few days, while Garfield did his press duties, the couple stayed in Yorkville courtesy of Fox. “Then they kicked us out,” she said with a laugh. “Now I’m downtown.”