After scoring deals for two acclaimed genre titles in Cannes, U.S. based Magnolia Pictures struck again, acquiring Johnny To's "Exiled," fresh from its recent world premiere at the Venice Film Festival and its North American premiere here at the Toronto International Film Festival. The deal, for all English-language rights to the action thriller, is a three-way pact which includes UK rights for Optimum Releasing and rights in Australia and New Zealand for Madman Entertainment (Magnolia will sub-distribute the movie to their partners as part of the arrangement). The news came at the festival's midpoint, with some buyers and sellers assessing the state of this year's Toronto market.
Magnolia Makes "Exiled" Pact
Modeled after Johnny To's "The Mission," the darkly comedic, stylized action film is set in Hong Kong's underworld and will have a U.S. release next year. It includes a star-studded cast of hit men, among then Roy Cheung, Francis Ng, Lam Suet, Anthony Wong and Simon Yam. Magnolia's head of acquisitions Tom Quinn, manager of acquisitions Ben Stambler, and head of business affairs Jason Janego negotiated the deal with Fred Tsui and Jeffrey Chan of Media Asia.
The three companies teamed up to nab Bong-joon Ho's "The Host" at the market in Cannes. The film is debuting in the Midnight Madness section here in Toronto.
"A lot of people thinking that the Hong Kong gangster film ran its course in the nineties are going to be pleasantly surprised by the freshness and innovation of 'Exiled'," said Magnolia President Eamonn Bowles in a statement. "To has really created a masterwork of style and substance which serves as a fantastic summation of the genre."
The Toronto Market, So Far
Genre titles have stirred the most interest among buyers at this year's Toronto International Film Festival, so far. In the case of To's "Exiled," Magnolia's Eamonn Bowles told indieWIRE that he sought to quickly close a deal for the film, fearing that later in the week, given the lack of many other hot sales titles, the price for the action film might have jumped.
Asked about the marketplace at the festival this year Bowles explained, "I wouldn't say its one of the best Torontos." Continuing, he told indieWIRE that he was, "hoping for more compelling stuff, at least on the commercial level. It hasn't been very strong." His reaction is consistent with the mood at Cannes as well. While Magnoloa did get the aforementioned "The Host" and genre title "Severance" in France this year, he added that the Gallic festival was not particularly compelling either. Bowles cautioned that while most of the big ticket items have already screened here in Toronto, a hidden gem could still emerge once the dust settles. "You never know," he added.
In fairness, getting an accurate read on a market while its still going on can be quite difficult. Organizers are always upbeat, while buyers typically bemoan the lack of quality movie (often taking a bit of time before nabbing a title), and sellers are optimistic (for fear or lowering the prices of their festival slate). Meanwhile, critical reactions from the media can be all over the map.
Unlike last year's Toronto fest, which saw high-priced pacts for narrative films like "Thank You For Smoking" and "Trust The Man," both of which sold to Fox Searchlight, thus far domestic sales at this year's Toronto International Film Festival have been marked by deals mostly for midnight and genre movies, as well as more political work. Over the weekend, The Weinstein Company acquired the comedy doc "Vince Vaughn's Wild West Comedy Show: 30 Days & 30 Nights - Hollywood To The Heartland" and its Dimension division acquired the slasher film "All The Boys Love Mandy Lane," while Newmarket Film closed a quick deal for the mock-doc, "Death of a President." Among the pre-fest deals were IFC Films' pact for the election doc "...So Goes The Nation," while The Weinstein Company closed a deal for "Dixie Chicks: Shut Up and Sing" and MGM nabbed Werner Herzog's "Rescue Dawn."
"Last year was an anomaly," cautioned a seasoned industry insider who asked not to be named, adding that this year's market activity is consistent with most other years in Toronto. "Psychologically, there are too many films," the person explained, diluting the market and making it difficult for buyers and sellers to focus, particulary with so many company agendas split between showcasing upcoming releases while also trying to see the films for sale. Calling Sundance still a better market for dealmaking, the insider added that Toronto's Midnight Madness section is proving successful because it gives buyers and sellers something a way to focus. "Everything here is so sprawling," the insider said, "You can't get your head around it." But the individual praised the "great audiences" at the festival as distinguishing the event from other festivals and markets.
Charlotte Mickie from Celluloid Dreams explained that the market in Toronto has met expectations at her own company, which has seen sales for fest films like Kenneth Branagh's "The Magic Flute" and is stirring interest in Karim Ainouz' "Suely In the Sky." She explained that her Celluloid has been using the Toronto market to close pacts for films like "Election" and "Jindabyne" which launched in Cannes and advised, "I find that a lot of our selling happens after the festival," noting that the market in Toronto will set up deals that may not close until AFM in November.
"Toronto has been consistent over the past two years," she noted, "It is a goood place to have meetings and a good place to hear about projects, a good place to sell." The company is pushing a slate of unfinished projects, closing a deal Tuesday for Japan on Francois Ozon's English-langage debut, "The Real Life of Angel Deverell" in a pact with Toshiba Entertainment. While screening only ten minutes from the film for buyers in Toronto, deals for some nineteen other territories have already been closed on the project, which stars Sam Neill and Charlotte Rampling, among others.
For Cinetic's John Sloss, who came to Toronto to sell a slate of seven fest features, the market is proving to be rather busy. The company has just closed a deal for Mike Tucker's "The Prisoner Or: How I Planned to Kill Tony Blair" (sold with Submarine) in a deal with Netflix that is set to be announced Wednesday.
"We are at a point where we really get to see a lot of movies and get to be much more selective," Sloss explained, "If you get to be more selective then there should be a correlation between more sales." He added that pacts for both Christopher N. Rowley's "Bonneville" and Jonathan King's "Black Sheep" could come by the end of the week.
[Get the latest from the Toronto International Film Festival throughout the day in indieWIRE's special Toronto '06 section.]