Toronto Film Fest 2007: Check

The front-loaded Toronto Film Festival slowed to a crawl Wednesday, as duties Stateside, the Rosh Hashanah holiday and the start of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan had a sizable swath of attendees heading for the airport.
One anticipated deal, for Vadim Perelman's “In Bloom,” finally closed. North American rights to the drama went to Magnolia, sister company of the pic's producer, 2929 Prods., marking the first time the two have teamed. Because the pact involved two separate business units operated by Todd Wagner and Mark Cuban, digging out details wasn't easy.

But it was clear that domestic reps CAA and Cinetic faced some skepticism in the market about the pic, which preemed Saturday. “In Bloom,” starring Uma Thurman and Evan Rachel Wood, centers around the lingering effects of a school shooting in a Connecticut suburb.

Pic also sold to more than a dozen foreign territories, including France (Metropolitan), Italy (Media Film), Japan (Desperado) and Korea (Pan Cinema.)

With only scraps left on the table, talk at many eateries and hotels around the fest, which runs through Saturday, turned to which of the attending directors or stars had emerged as the hottest properties.

Top of the list was undoubtedly Joe Wright, the Brit helmer of “Atonement.” Pic's acclaimed bow at Toronto followed on from a similarly-feted world preem at Venice. The 35-year-old sophomore director has established himself as an awards season contender with his deft adaptation of Ian McEwan's bestselling novel that spans from the 1930s through WWII and into the present day.

“Joe uses the medium of film like an artist would use a paintbrush,” said Working Title co-topper Tim Bevan, who produced the pic.

Wright flew straight from Toronto on to Los Angeles, where he is prepping his next project, “The Soloist,” a contemporary drama about music and homelessness starring Jamie Foxx and Robert Downey Jr. DreamWorks is producing with Working Title.

Wright and Perelman were just two of a number of first- or second-time helmers making an impact at the fest this year. Yet while Wright and others basked in their big moments, several buyers cited inexperience behind the camera as one reason why they steered clear of a few titles.

“I just find some of these movies to be either under- or overdirected,” said one experienced buyer. “It distracts you when you see mistakes in handling actors, setting up shots — sometimes all of the above.”

Some of the rookie errors may have been even more glaring given a fest sked equally packed with the latest projects from long-established helmers.

As for the newbies, scribes Alan Ball (“Nothing Is Private”) and Tony Gilroy (“Michael Clayton”) made the move to helming with their debut features, while thesps Stuart Townsend (“Battle in Seattle”) and David Schwimmer (“Run, Fat Boy, Run”) and musicvid director Anton Corbijn (“Control”) also made directorial debuts. Aristomenis Tsirbas debuted with animated feature “Terra,” featuring the voices of Danny Glover, Evan Rachel Wood and Luke Wilson.

“I was champing at the bit to direct a film, but I couldn't do it while I was doing 'Friends,'” said Schwimmer. “I love directing and want to keep doing it.”

Commercial director Craig Gillespie had earlier done New Line's “Mr. Woodcock,” but its release was pushed (it's finally out this month). His new pic, “Lars and the Real Girl,” garnered acclaim in Toronto before he was known as a feature director.

The infusion of new talent also came from further afield, with 19-year-old Iranian Hana Makhmalbaf (“Buddha Collapsed From Shame”) and Lebanese Nadine Labaki (“Caramel”) also preeming first-time efforts.

With sophomore pics from the likes of Paul Haggis (“In the Valley of Elah”), Tom McCarthy (“The Visitor”) and Gavin Hood (“Tsotsi”) sitting alongside new works form long-established celluloid masters David Cronenberg, Werner Herzog, Woody Allen, Ken Loach. Sidney Lumet and Youssef Chahine, this year's fest had an interesting cross-generational dimension.

Not that the old guys on the block were ready to relinquish power just yet. At the news confab for “Eastern Promises,” seasoned Canuck helmer Cronenberg was asked what advice he would give to young helmers.

“My goal is to crush them. They want to supplant me, and I want to destroy them,” quipped Cronenberg. “Seriously, though, there's so much mythology around being a director. I just want to demystify it for them. There are an infinite number of ways you can become a director.”