This year’s Toronto International Film Festival was another dense program filled with lots of new films in need of distribution. Fortunately, many of the highlights — from awards season heavyweights like “Jackie,” which went to Fox Searchlight, to smaller-scale crowdpleasers like “Tramps,” a Netflix acquisition — are guaranteed to find audiences beyond the TIFF arena. And most buyers agreed that this was, generally speaking, a pretty healthy year. Nevertheless, as the festival came to a conclusion, several great movies in the lineup remained homeless. Here are some of the ones that IndieWire wants to bring to the attention of all the buyers out there. We hope they’re paying attention.
With her underrated debut film “Sarah Prefers to Run,” Chloé Robichaud made one of the best coming-of-age stories in recent years. For her follow-up, the Québécois writer-director widened her focus, telling the story of three women caught in a political dispute over mining practices in a fictional island nation. It’s the rare film about local politics that takes shots at the absurdities of day-to-day governance while still acknowledging the virtues of civil service. Anchored by the three central performances (including one from Emily VanCamp of “Everwood” and “Revenge” fame), “Boundaries” is a political tale that perpetually keeps women at the fore, even as the male characters (including one who’s downright Ailes-ian) try their hardest to push them to the periphery. For fans of patient, character-driven international cinema, Robichaud is certainly a filmmaker worth keeping an eye on. —Steve Greene
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Sports docs often toss around “underdog” and “survival” with relative carelessness. But Maya Zinshtein’s profile of Israeli soccer club Beitar Jerusalem’s tumultuous 2012 season delves into a situation where those hollow buzzwords actually mean something away from the pitch. “Forever Pure” tracks the fan reaction to Beitar’s hiring of two Muslim Chechen players, a decision that stirred up vitriol among the club’s devoted followers. With striking practice footage and some shockingly candid talking head interviews, it should feel right at home for fans of ESPN’s “30 for 30” series. But beyond the inherent drama of the sports angle, Zinshtein also chronicles supporters of an institution who are highly resistant to shifting demographics, trolls who use threats of violence and physical injury to dehumanize individuals. In trying times, “Forever Pure” is a helpful reminder that when those who stubbornly oppose tolerance lead the way, no one wins. —SG
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“Hermia & Helena”
Argentine director Matias Piñeiro’s first English-language feature, in which a young woman comes to New York to work on a translation of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” is another clever look at the way contemporary characters relate to classic literature to understand their lives. With bit parts for American indie faces Keith Poulson, Dustin Guy Defa and filmmaker Dan Sallitt, it’s also a welcome evolution for Piñero, whose earlier films existed within the confines of his Latin American ecosystem. Here, his style opens up to a deceptively simple look at a carefree young woman (Agustina Muñoz in a layered performance) that gives way to more emotional chords in the final act. It’s further proof that Piñeiro is one of the most innovative filmmakers working today, and a terrific introduction to his talents that should satisfy Shakespeare fans and newbies alike. —Eric Kohn
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“The Human Surge”
It starts in Buenos Aires, then winds up in Mozambique. Once there, Argentine director Eduardo Williams’ first feature “The Human Surge” stops to watch a character urinate on a patch of dirt. After a few moments, the camera wanders closer to his target, zooms into the ground, ventures beneath it, and zeroes in on a tiny ant crawling through the earth. When it resurfaces, we’re suddenly in the Philippines. This maneuver is typical of the acrobatic camerawork that Williams employs throughout his shrewd and inventive feature, the most ambitious debut of the year. While light on narrative, “The Human Surge” presents a fascinating array of young characters leading similarly alienated lives around the world. It’s a remarkable statement on modern society rich in themes and craftsmanship alike. And it must be experienced in a theater. —EK
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“My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea”
As its unwieldy title suggests, “My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea” is much more than your average teen disaster movie. Every image in graphic novelist Dash Shaw’s animated feature delivers a dizzying, evocative reflection of restless youth. At the same time, it remains grounded in a familiar world of geeky teens, smarmy upperclassmen and disgruntled school administrators. As the archetypes swirl around the inane plot, the movie develops an intimate quality that’s not unlike sifting through the scrapbook of an exuberant young mind. And that’s what it makes such a nifty ride: No matter the zaniness of the plot, Shaw’s film is grounded in a very real, intimate set of experiences. It’s John Hughes for the Adult Swim generation. —EK
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“King of the Dancehall”
Few TIFF debuts have as much pure commercial appeal as Nick Cannon’s high-energy dance flick “King of the Dancehall.” Although the film — which seems to be as inspired by the “Step Up” franchise as it is by “Scarface,” bizarrely enough — pops and locks betweens themes and tones with herky-jerky regularity, it remains consistent in at least one arena: Entertainment value. With a breakout performance by Kimberly Patterson and strong supporting turns from Whoopi Goldberg and Busta Rhymes to lift it up, an infectious soundtrack and a series of jaw-dropping dance sequences, the film is a crowdpleaser that begs to be experienced in a theater. An added bonus? Nick Cannon, who wrote, directed, produced and stars in the film, seems like the kind of passionate creator a distributor could have a lot of fun — and success _ working alongside to get the film in front of the widest audience possible. —Kate Erbland
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Locarno Film Festival
Mind-blowing in the best possible way, “The Ornithologist” may not work for everyone, but those willing to embrace its puzzling ingredients will find a rewarding solution: further confirmation of a genuine film artist. The fifth narrative feature of Portugal’s João Pedro Rodrigues continues the soul-searching outlook and inventive storytelling of “The Last Time I Saw Macao” and “To Die Like a Man,” but reaches for even more ambitious territory with equally confounding and enlightening results. A favorite in certain diehard cinephile sects, Rodrigues deserves to find some new fans with this remarkable oddity. The movie depicts the Homeric voyage of a modern-day ornithologist named Fernando (Paul Hamy) who inexplicably transforms into a revered Catholic saint after getting lost in the woods. The details of his journey are difficult to describe and even stranger to experience, but this is a beautiful, haunting movie that will keep viewers talking as they search for meaning in its enigmatic depths. In the right hands, this is a cult classic in the making.
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Straight from the gloriously demented mind (and womb) of “Sightseers” star Alice Lowe, “Prevenge” is movie about a very pregnant British woman (Lowe) whose fetus tells her to murder people. And as if that weren’t enough to put butts in the seats, here’s an extra bit of jazz for the sales pitch: Lowe conceived, wrote, directed, and performed in the film while she was pregnant, herself. Gory to the max, darkly hilarious from start to finish, and soaked in hormonal rage, “Prevenge” is the perfect midnight movie for the terribly underserved “pregnant and stressed” demographic (though anyone with a wicked sense of humor will be able to enjoy it). It’s a shame that the film can’t untether itself from a needless backstory — it would be so much better if the homicidal fetus had no logical rationale behind its killer impulses — but Lowe’s self-assured directorial debut will still slay audiences who aren’t strictly pro-life. — David Ehrlich
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“The Woman Who Left”
Filipino director Lav Diaz doesn’t make movies for the faint of heart. It’s not just that he deals with grim aspects of his country’s society; it’s that the films run longer than many audiences can bear to endure. At just under four hours, “The Woman Who Left” — which won the top prize at the Venice Film Festival shortly before its TIFF premire — is actually on the shorter side by Diaz’s standards (“A Lullaby to the Sorrowful Mystery” runs over twice as long). But it’s a terrific encapsulation of the way the filmmaker uses time to create a deeply involving environment for his characters to explore. The black-and-white drama finds a middle-aged woman named Horacio (Charo Santos-Concio) getting released from prison after being exonerated of charges 30 years after her initial conviction. She returns to society unable to connect with her past and drifting through a harsh, indifferent world, eventually resettling in a small town where she helps the underprivileged. The story is at once powerfully immediate in its dark portrait of a world without a center and oddly uplifting in its depiction of Horacio’s attempts to find her place in it.
No, you can’t expect many buyers to see the commercial potential in this sprawling tale, but a smaller company could easily find the niche market of cinephiles eager to embrace a unique narrative experience. —EK
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It’s rare for an acquisitions title this good — especially one fronted by a trio of name actors — to emerge from the Telluride and Toronto International film festivals without being snatched up, but it’s easy enough to understand why distributors weren’t exactly champing at the bit to buy the ferocious directorial debut from theatre maverick Benedict Andrews. Adapted from David Harrower’s play, “Blackbird,” “Una” may boast career-best performances from Rooney Mara and Ben Mendelsohn (and feature a dabble of rising star Riz Ahmed, for good measure), but it’s still a story about statutory rape, a story about a woman who confronts the middle-aged man with whom she had a “consensual” love affair when he was 40 and she was only 13.
It’s uncomfortable stuff — not because it sympathizes with or excuses someone guilty of sexual abuse, but because it refuses to demonize him. Here is a film that refuses to pretend that human beings are as simple as we make them out to be, a breathlessly entertaining thriller that dares people to challenge their assumptions, even if it doesn’t ask them to change their minds. “Una” may not be “Suicide Squad” (thank God for that), but it could be a great pick-up for a courageous distributor who wants to release the kind of movies that people won’t be able to stop talking about. —DE
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