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Toronto Fest: Flowers of War, Acquisitions Log Jam on Opening Weekend

Photo of Anne Thompson By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood September 9, 2011 at 9:09AM

The opening weekend of Toronto is always a logjam of acquisition titles and this one is worse than usual, distribs complain. Saturday night is especially impossible, if key execs want to be positioned to make bids on Sarah Polley (pregnant!) title Take This Waltz, Jennifer Westfeldt and Jon Hamm's Friends with Kids, Oren Moverman's follow-up to The Messenger, Rampart starring Woody Harrelson, Australian cancer drama Burning Man, ensemble comedy The Oranges or Salmon Fishing in Yemen, starring Ewan McGregor. These are among the most anticipated fest pick-ups.
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Thompson on Hollywood

The opening weekend of Toronto is always a logjam of acquisition titles and this one is worse than usual, distribs complain. Saturday night is especially impossible, if key execs want to be positioned to make bids on Sarah Polley (pregnant!) title Take This Waltz, Jennifer Westfeldt and Jon Hamm's Friends with Kids, Oren Moverman's follow-up to The Messenger, Rampart starring Woody Harrelson, Australian cancer drama Burning Man, ensemble comedy The Oranges or Salmon Fishing in Yemen, starring Ewan McGregor. These are among the most anticipated fest pick-ups.

Thompson on Hollywood

Meanwhile every distributor in town turned up Friday for a screening of 20 minutes of gorgeous, horrifying footage of master auteur Zhang Yimou's once-titled Heroes of Nanking, starring Christian Bale as mortician in wartorn 1937 Nanking who steps up to protect a group of schoolgirls and prostitutes taking shelter at the Winchester Cathedral. The movie, which is adapted by Liu Heng from the novel by Geling Yan, is inspired by true events during the Rape of Nanking, and now has a new, if not better title, The Flowers of War.

Fox Searchlight, Harvey Weinstein, Summit, Roadside Attractions and others huddled outside the Varsity Cinemas afterwards to strategize; FilmNation's Glen Basner was accepting North American bids for the $90-million period epic that afternoon. It's the most expensive movie ever funded by China, beating John Woo's $80 million Red Cliff. The film opens December 16 across Asia, where it's expected to be a hit. Producers Zhang Weiping, David Linde and Basner hope to find a distributor willing to Oscar-qualify the film this year--which may or may not be possible. They are worried about piracy on this one. Several years back Searchlight picked up The Wrestler out of Toronto and released it by year's end: it can be done, but the distrib has to be positioned to handle it. Harvey Weinstein was chatting up Linde at the end of the screening; it would be tough to imagine TWC adding more Oscar contenders to its slate, for example.

Christian Bale looks strong in this, as do two key Chinese actresses, one playing Bale's love prostitute interest, the other a young girl. The film is approximately 40% in English and 60% in Mandarin

This article is related to: Festivals, Genres, Headliners, Independents, Toronto, Period, Foreign, Christian Bale


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Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.