‘Journals’ Makes Point as Toronto’s Fest Opener

The Toronto International Film Festival got off to a brave start Thursday night with the kickoff gala screening of “The Journals of Knud Rasmussen,” an Inuktitut- and Danish-language drama about Canada’s Inuit people being stripped of their traditions by Christianity.

Business also got under way as IFC First Take said it has picked up all North American distribution rights to “&hellip So Goes the Nation,” a documentary uncovering election manipulation in Ohio during the 2004 U.S. presidential race. “Nation” is scheduled to have its world premiere at the festival Thursday.

At the fest’s opening, the strains of native throat-singing and drum-beating opened the proceedings at Roy Thomson Hall as co-directors Zacharias Kunuk and Norman Cohn introduced a cast of unknown Inuit actors to about 4,000 guests.

“The voice of Canada’s Inuit people speaking to an audience of the country’s most powerful and privileged is clearly a historic moment in Canada’s history,” Cohn told the opening-night audience.

Signaling a watershed moment in Canadian film, Toronto festival co-director Noah Cowan said “Journals” represented “a cultural and cinematic triumph.”

Kunuk and Cohn earned the Camera d’Or at the 2001 Festival de Cannes for their first feature, “Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner,” a film about native history and healing. “Journals,” their second feature, has the naked man that ran across the Arctic ice in “Atanarguat” stopping in 1922 to witness the Inuit people’s shaman tradition be undermined, and ultimately replaced, by Christianity.

Cohn recalled that in 2001 the Toronto screening of “Atanarjuat” was to have occurred on Sept. 11 but was halted after the terrorist attacks in the U.S.

In “Nation,” the film that caught IFC’s attention, directors James D. Stern and Adam Del Deo took several camera crews to Ohio to document charges hurled between Republican and Democratic officials and loyalists, including allegations of fake voter registration and the suppression of voter turnout.

The filmmakers nabbed interviews with Democratic National Committee chairman Terry McAuliffe, Republican National Committee chairman Edward Gillespie, President Bush’s 2004 campaign manager Ken Mehlman, John Kerry’s 2004 campaign manager Mary Beth Cahill, Democratic adviser Paul Begala and campaign strategists for both candidates to get a comprehensive view of the election battle.

“Nation” will bow simultaneously in theaters and via cable video-on-demand services Oct. 4, a month before the November elections. “We wanted to release the film before midterm elections, when the public’s interest in campaign politics is high and the film’s message will have the greatest relevance,” Del Deo said.

“People spend more time analyzing what car to buy than who to vote for,” said Stern, who also serves as CEO of the film’s production company Endgame Entertainment. “That’s why the movie is at times analytical and at times maddening. We’d like this to be a film that encourages people to spend less time crying foul and more time thinking how they can make a difference.”

It’s just one of several political-themed films that will hit the Toronto fest this year, from the provocative “Death of a President,” to Guillermo del Toro’s “Pan’s Labyrinth,” which explores a young girl’s horror-filled fantasies in reaction to the fascism in 1940s Spain.

The deal was negotiated by IFC Entertainment president Jonathan Sehring, Elizabeth Nastro and Ryan Werner for IFC and Endgame Entertainment CEO Stern, Doug Hansen and John Sloss on behalf of Endgame.

In all, 352 films from 62 countries will unspool in Toronto; the festival ends Sept. 16.

To ensure that assembled media and film buyers not invited to Roy Thomson Hall on Thursday night didn’t feel left out, Toronto scheduled a slew of films that night, including 20th Century Fox’s “Borat,” which screened to a capacity house at midnight at the Ryerson Theatre, with lead Sacha Baron Cohen of “Da Ali G Show” on hand.

Other films unspooling in Toronto included the Canadian zombie film “Fido,” which stars Carrie-Anne Moss and Billy Connolly; Ken Loach’s “The Wind That Shakes the Barley,” which earned the Palme d’Or at Cannes in May; the German drama “The Lives of Others”; and Norway’s “The Bothersome Man,” from Jens Lien.

As in past years, the opening-night screening will be followed during the first weekend with an uptick in buying during Toronto’s behind-the-scenes market.

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