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Netflix looks to shake up film industry, takes ‘Beasts of No Nation’ to TIFF

By David Friend



TORONTO _ One of Netflix’s hottest new titles has its Canadian premiere on Sunday _ but won’t be streaming in your home.

After tearing down how we watch television shows _ and helping make binge watching the new channel surfing _ Netflix is now aiming squarely at the world of film. In October, the video streaming service will premiere the feature film “Beasts of No Nation” on the same online platform where it delivers its hit TV shows “Orange is the New Black” and “House of Cards.”

And just like those two Emmy-winning series, Netflix hopes its first major film release will also rack up a few gold statues.

Anticipation for “Beasts of No Nation” has been simmering ever since Netflix acquired the movie earlier this year. The film will hit the big screen at the Toronto International Film festival on Sunday and has two other public screenings.

Written and directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga, who helped bring HBO’s “True Detective” to TV screens last year, the film stars Idris Elba as an African warlord who takes a young orphan under his wing and trains him to fight in a guerilla war.

Elba is already considered a possible contender for a best actor Oscar nomination, while the film could land nominations in other categories too. Netflix has previously been in Oscar races _ in the lower-profile documentary feature category _ with “The Square” and “Virunga.”

At this year’s Toronto film festival, Netflix and its U.S. streaming competitors are expected to poke around for acquisitions to bolster their slates of content, alongside the usual roster of Hollywood distributors chasing movies with commercial potential.

Among some of the hotter Canadian films up for grabs this year are “Closet Monster,” the debut feature from Toronto-based filmmaker Stephen Dunn, Ellen Page’s drama “Into the Forest,” and fugitive thriller “River,” from Timmins, Ont.-native Jamie Dagg.

Heightened competition for festival movies is a boon for filmmakers, said Aaron Gilbert, a managing director at Bron Studios, based in Burnaby, B.C.

His production house paired with Netflix for the Ricky Gervais comedy “Special Correspondents,” which shot in Toronto over the summer. The film is scheduled to arrive on the streaming service next year.

“There are a lot more avenues for independent films than in the past, which is great,” he said.

“For years, there was that fearful time when the DVD market evaporated.”

Netflix is just one of the many players who have swooped in to capitalize on the downturn of physical media.

In recent years, cable companies have expanded their selections of video-on-demand content, while Apple’s iTunes and Google’s Play store offer a wide array of digital downloads and rentals, which are sometimes available simultaneously with the theatrical release.

The shift has put movie exhibitors like Cineplex Entertainment in a tough spot, since most of their revenue hangs on people leaving their homes to watch the latest movies.

Cineplex says it won’t screen “Beasts of No Nation” in its theatres, nor will it show other upcoming Netflix films, which include the Imax release of a sequel to “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.”

However, the movie chain is still looking for ways to keep pace with changing viewer habits.

Next month it will pair with Hollywood movie studio Paramount to experiment with a shorter window between theatrical and home release of two low-budget horror films.

“The lines are becoming so blurred now because of the myriad of ways that content is being delivered on various platforms,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst for box-office firm Rentrak.

“It’s new rules that everyone is playing by.”

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