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Toronto Film Festival: Battle For Oscar Begins?

Friday, 7 Sep 2007 | 11:17 AM ET

I'm here at the Toronto Film Festival, a key market for Hollywood studios to buy indie films to fill out their slates. Everyone's looking for the next "Crash" or "Thank you for Smoking", two low-budget, high-grossing films that both sold here in Toronto in previous years. It's these low budget acquisitions that can, if you're lucky, yield the highest margins for the media conglomerates' studios. Here's how it works--independent filmmakers compete to get their projects accepted by the film festival committee. Acceptance into the festival means the film will be perused by Hollywood big spenders.

This year a LOT of deals are expected to be made. The other two big festivals this year-- Cannes and Sundance--both prompted a host of acquisitions, and acquisitions at this fest may be prompted by concerns of an upcoming strike drying out studios' own slate. (If the studios' own productions are going to have to grind to a halt next summer, they should at least have plenty of stuff in the hopper, right?).

While the festival intends to highlight great films from unknowns, when it comes to acquisition buzz, everyone's talking about the indies with stars or star directors, and these are the films studios are likely to buy distribution rights to. "Nothing is Private" is the directorial debut of the creator of "Six Feet Under" and writer of "American Beauty," Alan Ball. "Then She Found Me" is the directorial debut of Helen Hunt, starring her, along with Colin Firth, Matthew Broderick, and Bette Midler.

To continue on the theme of known entities drawing buzz, there's lots of talk about "The Girl in the Park", the first film from David Auburn (writer of Broadway's "Proof") starring Sigourney Weaver and Kate Bosworth.

And then there's the other point of the festival--it's the start of the race to the Oscars. Yes, the Academy Awards aren't until next year, but the fall is when all the Oscar hopefuls hit theaters, and this festival is where the studios premiere many of them. A film's premiere--and the reviews it gets here at Toronto--can make or break its box office and its Oscar fate. "American Beauty" and "Sideways" both got their start here at Toronto, but "All the Kings Men's" negative reviews here, doomed the film. This year it's clear which films the studios are counting on.

There's a lot of pre-Oscar interest in Universal Pictures (owned by GE which is parent company of CNBC ) "Atonement" and "Elizabeth: The Golden Age." Warner Brothers is the other studio that seems to have a big premiere push here--Michael Clayton, starring George Clooney is premiering tonight with a big gala, and the studio is promoting its Brad Pitt film, "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford."

By the end of the festival we'll have a much better sense of which films will draw audiences to theaters this fall, and which will win the Academy's attention, which in turn, means more love from audiences.

Questions? Comments? MediaMoney@cnbc.com

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  • Working from Los Angeles, Boorstin is CNBC's media and entertainment reporter and editor of CNBC.com's Media Money section.