War films take new strategy at Toronto fest

Wed Sep 3, 2008 11:59pm EDT
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By Steven Zeitchik and Borys Kit

TORONTO (Hollywood Reporter) - At this year's Toronto International Film Festival, the war movies are all wearing camouflage.

Last year, topical political pictures like "Rendition" and "In the Valley of Elah" came into Toronto with a head of steam and left in a cloud of dust. This time around, although there is another onslaught of films with war themes screening at the festival -- which kicks off Thursday night with Canadian filmmaker Paul Gross' World War I saga "Passchendaele" -- they are being billed as everything but war movies.

Where the 2007 crop sought to mine topicality, producers and publicists are positioning their new titles as movies that could just as easily be happening in any other time or place.

"This movie is not about the Iraq war. It's an action-adventure movie that happens to be set in Iraq," producer Nic Chartrier said of his film "The Hurt Locker." Directed by Kathryn Bigelow, the film, which focuses on an Army squad in Iraq that must defuse a dangerous bomb in a crowded city, will be seeking a U.S. distribution deal. "This could have been the British and the IRA. It could have been anywhere, really," Chartrier said.

The cool Toronto reception and subsequent box-office bath taken by last year's movies might have stopped some from unspooling war-themed films. But given production lag time and filmmakers' belief that there are stories still untold, a group of war-inflected titles rides into the festival.

Another of those films, "The Lucky Ones," which stars Tim Robbins and Rachel McAdams in a tale of U.S. soldiers recently returned from the Middle East, also has sought to hit a different note. The picture's trailer and ad campaigns emphasize comedy and camaraderie, and a Sarah McLachlan ballad lends a softer feel that might appeal to women.


"Iraq is a dirty word in film marketing right now," said Howard Cohen, co-president of Roadside Attractions, which will release the picture September 26.   Continued...