- Friday, Aug. 17, 2012
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- LOS ANGELES
Sixty years ago, Kon-Tiki, a film about and directed by legendary explorer Thor Heyerdahl, won the Oscar for Best Feature Documentary. Fast forward to today and the Toronto International Film Festival, regarded as the kickoff to the annual awards season, capped by the Oscars, will have among its offerings a narrative feature film on Heyerdahl, delving into him as a person in addition to capturing his and five crew members' remarkable journey 4,300 miles across the Pacific on the fragile Kon-Tiki raft.
This new film, also titled Kon-Tiki, will make its worldwide premiere on Saturday (Aug. 18), opening the Norwegian International Film Festival and then be released in Norway theaters on Aug. 24. Directed by Norwegian-born filmmakers Espen Sandberg and Joachim Roenning--known to the ad community as the helming duo Roenberg--Kon-Tiki will then make its international debut at the Toronto Film Festival which runs from Sept. 6-16.
The Toronto International Fest is pivotal to the film's worldwide distribution strategy. Kon-Tiki is a production of Danish firm Nordisk Film and U.K.'s Recorded Picture Company. Nordisk handles Scandinavian distribution while Hanway Films in the U.K. is in charge of international sales.
"Being accepted into the Toronto Film Festival is an honor," said Roenning. "It's the best way for a Scandinavian movie to get out there--particularly raising awareness in the North American market."
Roenning also cited producer Jeremy Thomas of Recorded Picture Company as a major asset. "He [Thomas] won the Best Picture Oscar with [Bernardo] Bertolucci's The Last Emperor," noted Roenning. "To have him on our team pushing this film, supporting us, means a great deal."
Kon-Tiki is billed as being the most complex and biggest budgeted film in Scandinavian history. It entailed shooting in six countries, extensive lensing on the open sea as well as in a Malta-based water tank. The logistical and technical aspects were daunting. There's also digitally created ocean life--sharks, fish and varied other animals as the directors worked in concert with four post/VFX houses, Swedish shops Fido and Important Looking Pirates, and Norwegian companies Storm Studios and Gimpville.
"We were very concerned about these digital creations. We knew that the drama would fall through if those creatures didn't seem totally real and believable," said Sandberg.
Still, with all the technical aspects and the high action adventure dynamic inherent in men battling nature--from tidal waves to sharks and other oceanic perils--the core of the film is a human story. Heyerdahl for instance sacrifices his marriage for this expedition. "When you bring it down to its essence, this film is in many ways a stage play," observed Roenning. "It's a stage play that takes place on a raft in the middle of the Pacific Ocean."
Roenberg's prior feature, Max Manus: Man of War, was also based on a true story, centering on a World War II saboteur. Asked if they have an affinity for non-fiction narrative, Sandberg and Roenning said that the historic roots in their last two films are just coincidence. "We seek out great stories whether fiction or based on historical fact," said Roenning. "What we look for are character-driven stories with unique backdrops. Thor Heyerdahl fits this profile. His story is unique and compelling. His book, his documentary, the accounts of his journeys and his life have captured people's imaginations all over the world. We think our film shows another side of him and offers some new insights."
Spot roots Meanwhile Roenberg's historical roots in filmmaking are deeply entrenched in advertising soil. The directing duo made its first mark in spotmaking internationally and then stateside. In the U.S., Roenberg continues to direct spots and branded content via Sandwick Media. The directors' Scandinavian roost remains their shop Motion Blur.
At press time, after wrapping Kon-Tiki, Roenning and Sandberg were scheduled to go to Maiorca to direct their first commercial since the feature. The spot job is being produced by Motion Blur. Among the assorted commercials directed by Roenberg over the years is Budweiser's "Rex" for DDB Chicago which topped the USA Today annual poll of Super Bowl ads.
"We learn from our features and bring that back to commercials," said Sandberg. Conversely, noted Roenning, commercialmaking has informed the directing team's feature endeavors. "Our norm is shooting commercials every month, using the newest equipment, trying out new techniques, balancing the technical and storytelling, traveling around the world, working with great artists. It's a great ride that keeps you fresh creatively. We've also done our share of commercials with visual effects that don't look like effects at all. That's exactly what we had to do with the 500 effects shots we had in Kon-Tiki, from the sea animals to everything else."
Fest lineup Director Rian Johnson's Looper starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis has been chosen to open the 10-day Toronto International Film Festival. The cerebral action thriller stars Gordon-Levitt as a time traveler assassin whose target is his future self, portrayed by Willis.
Director Terrence Malick will have his To The Wonder, described as an exploration of love, make its North American debut in Toronto. The film stars Ben Affleck and Olga Kurylenko.
Joss Whedon, director of the box office blockbuster The Avengers, brings Much Ado About Nothing to Toronto for its world premiere. Whedon gives Shakespeare's classic comedy a contemporary spin with Amy Acker and Alexis Denisof as the bickering lovers.
This year's Toronto lineup includes several films by actors who have settled into the director's chair--Dustin Hoffman making his helming debut with Quartet, a comedy about four retired opera signers; Robert Redford with The Company You Keep in which he plays a civil rights lawyer who's on the lam upon being identified by a reporter (Shia LaBeuouf) as being a 1970s radical fugitive wanted for murder; and Affleck directs and stars in Argo, a film centered on six American hostages hiding in Iran back in 1979. An offbeat rescue plan emerges in Argo and involves pretending to film a Hollywood movie in Tehran, with the hope of getting the hostages out by their masquerading as film crew and/or cast members. Affleck is repped as a director of commercials and branded content by Independent Media.
Director David O. Russell, whose last film was the acclaimed The Fighter--which earned Best Picture and Director Oscar nominations--now comes to the Toronto International Film Festival with the world premiere of Silver Linings Playbook, an intense, emotional drama with elements of comedy starring Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, and Robert De Niro. In-between his feature projects, Russell has been directing commercials via production house Wondros.
Director Derek Cianfrance will have his The Place Beyond the Pines make its world premiere in Toronto. Ryan Gosling stars as a professional motorcycle rider who becomes a bank robber to support his newborn son. When he crosses paths with a rookie police officer played by Cooper, a violent confrontation spirals into a deeply intense feud. Cianfrance is repped for commercials by @radical.media.
Stuart Blumberg, an Oscar-nominated screenwriter for The Kids Are All Right, makes his directorial debut in Thanks for Sharing, a romantic comedy about a group of friends determined to recover from sex addiction. The ensemble cast includes Mark Ruffalo, Tim Robbins and Gwyneth Paltrow.
Debuting in North America via the Toronto Fest will be Rust and Bone, a love story directed by Jacques Audiard and starring Marion Cotillard and Matthias Schoenaerts.
Venus & Serena, a documentary on sisters and tennis champions Serena and Venus Williams, will make its global bow in Toronto. The film was directed by Maiken Baird and executive produced by Oscar-winning documentarian Alex Gibney (who is repped for commercials by Chelsea).
Also making its world premiere will be End of Watch directed by David Ayer. The film stars Oscar nominee Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena as young Los Angeles police officers Taylor and Zavala as they patrol South Central's toughest streets, creating a portrait of the city's most dangeous neighborhoods and the cops who risk their lives there everyday.
And making its international premiere will be the Ben Lewin-directed The Sessions which centers on a man confined to an iron lung who at age 38 is determined to lose his virginity. Based on the autobiographical writings of journalist/poet Mark O'Brien, the film stars John Hawkes, Helen Hunt and William H. Macy.
For a full rundown of the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival's offerings, log onto tiff.net/thefestival/filmprogramming.