Toronto: Pshaw on premieres

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The Toronto International Film Festival is getting out of the festival premiere game.

Frustrated with how the media and rival festivals assign a film's premiere status, Toronto co-director Noah Cowan said Tuesday that he prefers letting others decide whether films that show in Toronto are world or North American bows.

"Our feeling is the language around the whole premiere game has become so clouded as to make them meaningless," Cowan said from Paris, where he is screening potential French titles for his 2007 edition.

His comments came as Toronto unveiled selections for its upcoming lineup that largely bowed in Cannes and Berlin, including the latest works from Alexander Sokurov, Jacques Rivette and Ermanno Olmi.

The festival confirmed speculation that Universal Pictures will bring Shekhar Kapur's Cate Blanchett starrer "Elizabeth: The Golden Age" to town for a high-profile bow at Roy Thomson Hall (HR 6/25).

The Working Title Films effort, which also stars Clive Owen and Geoffrey Rush, is set for an Oct. 12 theatrical release.

"Elizabeth" will receive a world premiere in Toronto, even though festival organizers labeled its launch as a "gala premiere."

Cowan said other festivals may play the world premiere game to compel producers to screen their films first at their festival, or not at all. Toronto won't.

"Because of timing, they (films) begin their lives at other events. We try not to penalize them for that," he said.

Cowan also wants to get out of the firing line. In the past, Toronto has come under criticism for assigning world-premiere status to films that first received sneak previews in Telluride, for example, or crept into Venice before Toronto at the last moment.

"We like to give a snapshot of important trends in world cinema. We can't be too hung up on premieres," Cowan said.

Tuesday's announcements gave U.S. film buyers their first look at what independent films from Cannes and Berlin will screen in Toronto in September, most likely as North American premieres.

Joining the previously announced "No Country for Old Men" — now booked for a Special Presentations sidebar slot — Cannes Competition titles bound for Toronto include "Alexandra" from Sokurov ("Russian Ark"), Hungarian filmmaker Bela Tarr's "The Man From London" and Austrian director Ulrich Seidl's "Import/Export," which will screen in the Visions program.

Other Cannes competitors in Toronto include Carlos Reygadas' "Silent Light," French director Christophe Honore's "Les chansons d'amour," Andrei Zvyagintsev's "The Banishment" and German director Fatih Akin's "The Edge of Heaven."

Also booked for passage from Cannes to Toronto is the Juliette Binoche starrer "The Flight of the Red Balloon," a France/Taiwan co-production from Hou Hsiao-hsien; Olmi's "One Hundred Nails," possibly the last feature from the Italian director ("The Tree of the Wooden Clogs"); and Volker Schlondorff's "Ulzhan," a Germany/Kazakhstan/France co-production.

Toronto's Visions sidebar, which spotlights experimental film, has booked Thai director Pen-ek Ratanaruang's "Ploy," billed as an erotic psychological drama about three strangers locked in a hotel room; Ana Katz's Argentina/Spain co-production "A Stray Girlfriend"; and Roy Andersson's tragic comedy "You, the Living."

In the Real to Reel section, Toronto has booked the Andrey Paounov documentary "The Mosquito Problem and Other Stories," a Bulgaria/U.S./Germany co-production about a village that is turned into a concentration camp, then a city, then a nuclear power plant. It bowed in Cannes.

Toronto's Vanguard sidebar will screen Dutch filmmaker Anton Corbijn's "Control," French filmmaker Celine Sciamma's "Naissance des pieuvres" and Spanish director Juan Antonio Bayona's "The Orphanage," from producer Guillermo del Toro.

Also bound for Toronto is Patrician Riggen's debut feature "Under the Same Moon," which stars America Ferrera.

Berlinale films booked for Toronto include a North American premiere for Canadian director Bruce McDonald's "The Tracey Fragments," French director Rivette's "Ne touchez," and two titles for the Contemporary World Cinema program: Salif Traore's "Faro: La reine des eaux" and Hungarian director Arpad Bogdan's "Happy New Life."

Rounding out Toronto's early selections are German helmer Robert Thalheim's "And Along Come Tourists"; Nadine Labaki's "Caramel," a Lebanon/France co-production; Australia's "Home Song Stories," from Tony Ayres; Italian filmmaker Saverio Costanzo's "In Memory of Myself"; Hungarian director Csaba Bollok's "Iska's Journey," Japanese director Naomi Kawase's "The Mourning Forest"; U.S. director Lee Issac Chung's "Munyurangabo"; Sandra Kogut's "Mutum"; and South Korean director Chang-dong Lee's "Secret Sunshine."
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