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Festival Season: Feast and Famine, Ten Hot Toronto Pick-Ups

Festival Season: Feast and Famine, Ten Hot Toronto Pick-Ups

Going into the fall festival season in Venice, Telluride, Toronto and New York, we know the following:

The film glut is over. There are fewer distributors. The indie market is in transition from a theatrical to a digital distribution model. Of the more than 100 films for sale in Toronto, a fraction will find meaningful theatrical distribution. Of the burgeoning Oscar hopefuls, only a handful will emerge with enough buzz and momentum to push forward through Oscar season.

One indie agent with several films for sale in Toronto feels unaccountably optimistic, citing Overture (The Visitor), Summit (The Hurt Locker) and Apparition (Bright Star) as potential buyers this year. Production-oriented Miramax, Weinstein Co. and Focus Features have been less acquisition-driven. “We haven’t found something we wanted to buy at the last few festivals,” says one Miramax exec. Fox Searchlight will buy (see (The Wrestler) but is picky.

Marketing is the key to the success of the surviving indies, as they struggle to cut through the noise and clutter and get movie fans with attention deficit disorder to pay heed. That’s why Searchlight remains at the head of the pack–with Slumdog Millionaire, The Wrestler and summer hit 500 Days of Summer. The Weinsteins recently recovered their marketing stride with Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds–which may or may not return on their investment, finally.

Most of the buys in Toronto will come from what sellers call the super-ancillaries: Sony Worldwide Acquisitions Group, Anchor Bay, Magnolia and IFC and other smaller distributors who market for video, basically.

I only wish that more filmmakers were willing to take the risk of screening their films in advance for buyers, who could then back them at festivals. Overture, Sony Pictures Classics and Apparition are among the companies willing to go with their gut and buy things without waiting for reviews and fest applause. (UPDATE: In fact, SPC just acquired U.S. and Latin American rights to Toronto title Micmacs, a fantastical ensemble comedy from director Jean-Pierre Jeunet. They had released his The City of Lost Children.) Sales reps hate it when one buyer doesn’t want the movie and then the remaining buyers get angry that they weren’t shown the film as well. “It’s safer to show the film, let them all see it and decide,” says one agent.


The Playlist makes 13 Toronto picks. Here’s my 30. Now that I’ve done more reporting, I did leave out some of the acquisition titles that distributors are chasing. They tend to be English-language pictures with movie stars, which does not mean they are the best films being shown in Toronto.

1. The title with the most heat is Jon Amiel’s opening night film Creation, starring the husband-and-wife team of Paul Bettany and Jennifer Connelly and Mr. and Mrs. Charles Darwin.

2. Don Roos’s relationship drama Love and Other Impossible Pursuits stars Natalie Portman.

3. Edward Norton takes on twin brothers in Tim Blake Nelson’s Oklahoma comedy Leaves of Grass.

4. Julianne Moore hires Amanda Seyfried to test her husband’s love in Chloe, which looks sexy, but hasn’t pre-sold because, well, “it’s Atom Egoyan.”

5. Colin Farrell uses his own Irish accent in Neil Jordan’s Ondine.

6. And also stars in Danis Tanovic’s mystery thriller Triage.

7. Michael Douglas goes wacky in Solitary Man, from Brian Koppelman and David Levien, the writers of the Oceans series.

8. Bill Murray and Robert Duvall are grumpy old men in Aaron Schneider’s 30s southern tale Get Low.

9. Tom Ford’s A Single Man, based on the Christopher Isherwood book, premieres in Venice. Colin Firth, Julianne Moore, and Matthew Goode star.

10. Niki Caro (Whale Rider) directs The Vintner’s Luck, about a 19th-century French peasant wine maker. Vera Farmiga and Oscar-nominated Keisha Castle-Hughes star.

Pre-festival season, IndieWIRE offers ten things the fests will tell us about the Oscar race. The Hollywood Reporter focuses on the indies in a special issue. USA Today gets the jump on Juno director Jason Reitman and his new George Clooney starrer, Up in the Air. Reitman’s also producing Diablo Cody and Karyn Kusama’s Jennifer’s Body. And tweets @jasonreitman.

And Michael Cieply’s NYT Toronto Preview casts light on the oddity of the Academy expanding the Oscar best picture slots to ten at a time when the marketplace is contracting. Apparition’s Bob Berney gets the indie marketplace, but Cieply’s notion that cutting back on release titles shortchanges moviegoers is absurd:

“There’s been a glut,” contended Mr. Berney, who said the drop-off was good for distributors, in that it allows their films extra time and space in the marketplace. Still, the decline might be sharp enough for the audience to feel shorted, especially in New York and Los Angeles, where viewers have sometimes had their choice among as many as two dozen new releases on a single weekend in the fall.

Now moviegoers will be able to select from stronger, better-marketed titles, is the point.

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