October 6th, 2006 
 Independent Filmmakers Alliance Newsletter
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The IFA presents IFF, International Funding Forum, at TIFF's opening day and 99th Floor Films, production company, owned by Anthony Miceli and Alison White.

 IFF (International Funding Forum) at TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival)

by Anya Wassenberg

TIFF won its high profile reputation as a film goers' mecca, and even hardened critics like syndicated columnist Roger Ebert have gushed over the city's ardent film fans. For film makers, however, reaching the audience is the reward after a long process, one that begins long before any screenings, and one that depends on much more mundane concerns like finding the money.

This fall, at the 31st TIFF, there was talk of a new push towards making the Festival as much a marketplace as it is a showcase for film, perhaps mindful of last year's bidding frenzy for Thank You For Smoking. 2006 saw the inaugural staging of IFF the International Funding Forum held on September 8, TIFF's opening day.

Although the format and name were new, though, the idea was the result of an evolution. Previous TIFF's have seen what was dubbed the Match Club, an endeavour to bring producers and financiers together. But, a bigger push was needed, and suggested by the Ontario Media Development Corporation (OMDC). Explains OMDC's James Weyman, Manager, Industry Development, OMDC, and Executive Producer of IFF, Our mission is to create new business. We're always looking to create new opportunities for Ontario future film producers. In the past several years, we've worked with an agency of the British Consulate, and have brought over British film producers. We wanted to build on that concept, he continues. Looking at other events, Berlin and Cannes have moved towards creating more business and networking opportunities for co-productions. Weyman also cites the tumultuous financial climate in British film making as a reason for expanding on the premise of getting film makers and potential financial partners to talk business.

September 8's event, hosted by OMDC in partnership with Telefilm Canada, RBC Royal Bank and UK Trade & Investment, took place at Toronto's posh Sutton Place Hotel's Stop 33 restaurant, overlooking the city from the 33rd floor. We wanted to keep it relatively small and high level, Weyman states. Small and high level means a group of about 40 producers pitching projects at various stages of completion from all over Canada, the US, Australia, the UK, South Africa, Italy, Finland, Switzerland, China, Brazil and Spain. The VIP financier side included Thorsten Ritter, head of Bavaria Film International, reps from William Morris Agency, the UK's Spice Factory, and Capri Films, Jane Wright, Head of Business & Legal Affairs for the BBC, and Kristin Jones, SVP of Production & Acquisitions for Miramax. The international mix makes good business sense. Independent financing often means multiple partners, Weyman notes. We're trying to create an international co- production market involving fairly senior partners. Part of what made it special too, is the presence of Americans.

The morning of the 9 am to 4 pm forum featured one on one sessions a minimum of five meetings for each producer, with breaks the included presentations from organizations in Canada, the UK, South Africa and Australia on funding opportunities. A bit like the speed dating concept, if you will, producers had a short time to make that all important pitch. Damon D'Oliveira of Toronto's Conquering Lion Pictures attended to pitch two projects, Enter the Cipher, and the Collectors, both feature length dramas. I think the most productive aspect is that it's a very strategic meeting point at TIFF, he states. That very focused one on one is its biggest benefit.

D'Oliveira also took part in the lunch time event, an interview with Howard Gertler, producer of Shortbus. Shortbus, a largely improvised film starring Sook-Yin Lee and Paul Dawson, explores the comic and tragic intersections of love and sex between several characters who eventually converge at an underground art/politics/sex salon in NYC. The film, which features real sex acts on camera, was a sensation at Cannes, and had TIFF media abuzz. It was more of a discussion of creative producing, says D'Oliveira of the interview, how to make a film that has strong sexual material. He likens it to his experience with Clement Virgo's Lie With Me. It's all in finding the right partners as D'Oliveira notes, both Lie With Me and Shortbus found US distribution through the same company, THINKFilm.

For D'Oliveira, the controversial subject matter is a sign of the times. The international market is over saturated at the moment, he explains, you really need something that sets you apart and sex sells! he laughs. Directorial flair, and strong subject matter set you apart. As proof, he notes Lie With Me sold in over 30 markets. He counts IFF as a worthwhile experience already. They brought in a number of Canada's key co-production partners, he notes. I came out of there with a very good up to date idea of co-production opportunities. As to funding of future projects, naturally, nothing in the film business happens overnight, much less in an afternoon. It's all in the follow up now, he says.

It takes a while for things to percolate, Weyman remarks, but he reports extremely encouraging exit comments from the participants. One of the early responses has been that a film looking for additional funding and distribution is very close to signing a deal, he reports. Paul Barkin, a producer with Alcina Pictures, is also enthusiastic. Due to the IFF, we are imminently close to signing an international sales deal for Bruce McDonald's new project, the Tracey Fragments, starring Ellen Page. In some cases, the view is longer term. Says Jodi Zuckerman, VP Creative Affairs for Participant Productions, IFF delivered high quality producers with solid projects. It is clear to me that there will be opportunities for Participant to work with some of these producers in the future. All participants are required to report back on their progress to more effectively gauge the IFF's effectiveness.

We're trying to add to what TIFF does, Weyman says. I think ultimately IFF reflects the TIFF festival it's a bridge from Europe to North America. I think we achieved that.

Find out more.... 

 Starting with Success - 99th Floor Films

by Anya Wassenberg

In early September, what with line-ups all over downtown and fevered sightings of J.Lo and Brad Pitt sans Angelina your average Torontonian might be forgiven forgetting that everything to do with film doesn't begin and end with TIFF. For Toronto based partners Anthony Miceli and Allison White and 99th Floor Films, their production company (www.99thfloorfilms.com), however, the film festival experience came a little farther east, and a week or two earlier.

Peephole, 99th Floor's d but short, was an official selection of the Montreal World Film Festival (www.ffm-montreal.org) and screened on the Festival's closing weekend, September 1 & 3. It was fantastic, enthuses White of the experience. The Friday night audience was, in particular, very responsive.

Of course, the allure of festival exposure includes much more than the invaluable exposure to audiences there's the networking, the schmoozing. The Festival people were very welcoming There were lots of parties! she notes. The Montreal World Film Festival really is an international festival, she adds, very respected internationally.

99th Floor Films first took shape when White and Miceli met as students in the film programme at Sheridan College in Oakville, Ontario, an affluent suburban community half an hour west of Toronto. Allison arrived to study cinematography and editing after studies at Memorial University in St. John's, Nfld, and Miceli came to Sheridan's highly regarded programme after studying at the New York Film Academy. After completing a film together as students, the two recognized an essential working compatibility and shared vision. We both love the idea of making films that are provocative and accessible, says White. Hollywood bashing may be de rigueur in indie circles, but White is hopeful of being able to bring quality work to the mainstream. They still make some good films in Hollywood we want to contribute to that.

A shared work ethic came into play during the shooting of Peephole, a 3 long day, 2 location extravaganza, complete with 25 person crew. We had a fantastic crew, she acknowledges. Peephole is based on White's short story, with Miceli collaborating on the screenplay version. Shot in November of 2005, it screened in Montreal in less than a year. We sent rough cuts to festivals in December, White says, but we had the absolute finished product in spring.

Peephole tells the story of Jack, who watches the world and his beautiful neighbour from the safety of his apartment, behind the peephole, until one day when he sees something that compels him to leave, with unexpected results. Judging from Peephole, and excerpts from Plasticity, a psychological thriller currently in development, 99th Floor's strength and penchant lies in a talent for creating moody, emotional visuals; claustrophobic hallways, or lonely barren winter landscapes, of finding a surreal edge in the banal. Both pieces are characterized by finely tuned acting and a compelling visual point of view that can shift from normal to nightmarish, undoubtedly what attracted the organizers of Montreal's Film Festival.

99th Floor is currently shopping Peephole with a view to further screenings, along with working on several feature scripts. We're very busy writing! says White.



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