The earliest deals were huge, with streamers snapping up worldwide rights for two Black Oscar-winning actresses’ directorial debuts. Netflix, in a near-$20-million deal, grabbed Halle Berry’s MMA drama “Bruised,” ahead of its online and drive-in TIFF premiere as a “work in progress” Saturday. The streamer also picked up Venice winner “Pieces of a Woman,” and Sam Levinson’s secretly shot quarantine film “Malcolm and Marie” starring Zendaya and John David Washington out of the TIFF marketplace for a whopping $30 million.
Amazon, meanwhile, made the first eight-figure deal of the season when it bought Regina King’s “One Night in Miami” more than a month ahead of its Venice premiere.
It’s unlikely festival acquisitions will get much more headline-grabbing. Amid so much uncertainty and a TIFF lineup just one-fifth the size of last year’s, sales activity during the pandemic has been spread out over the last six months, with still-announced deals and un-produced projects waiting in the wings.
“Even though most films are exhibited virtually right now, being at a festival is still a huge badge of honor. It helps brand a movie, gives it laurels. That said, for producers and financiers seeking distribution, the process is not as reliant on festivals as it once was,” UTA independent film group sales agent Mikey Schwartz-Wright told IndieWire at the beginning of the month.
Meantime, sidebars at Venice and TIFF, in addition to other market activity around the festivals, means acquisitions won’t be limited to official selections.
Buyers and agents are expecting this year’s fall festival sales environment as a “wait-and-see” market, one where streamers are likely to set the agenda. But Netflix, Amazon, and Apple’s appetite for commercial fare has increased during the pandemic, and with few star-driven English-language titles of the “Brusied” ilk available in the festivals’ smaller lineups, acquisitions of smaller films and international titles are set to define the season.
Expect more activity like Neon’s early September pickup of Philippe Lacôte’s “Night of the Kings,” which premiered at the Venice Horizons sidebar and will screen at TIFF and NYFF. But the jury’s still out on whether streamers’ interest will expand to include the types of films usually reserved for theatrical distributors.
Here’s everything that’s been picked up, with more to unfold in the coming weeks.
Tracey Deer’s film tells the story of a 12-year-old Mohawk girl forced to grow up fast during the 1990 Indigenous uprising known as the Oka Crisis. The film was second runner-up of the People’s Choice Award at TIFF and later went on to screen at Berlinale.
Title: “The Water Man”
Buyer: RLJE Films (North America) and Netflix (international)
David Oyelwo’s directorial debut is a family adventure film starring Oyelowo, Rosario Dawson, Lonnie Chavis, Amiah Miller, Alfred Molina, and Maria Bello about a man who sets out on a quest to save his ill mother, searching for a mythic figure who possesses the secret to immortality. The script appeared on the Black List and was produced by Oprah Winfrey’s Harpo Films, ShivHans Pictures, and Yoruba Saxon.
RLJE will release it domestically in theaters and on PVOD on May 7, 2021. Netflix will release it in other territories later in 2021.
Title: “Concrete Cowboy”
Ricky Staub’s feature debut assembles an all-star cast led by Idris Elba, Lorraine Toussaint (“Selma,” “Orange is the New Black), Caleb McLaughlin (“Stranger Things”), Jharrel Jerome (“Moonlight”), Byron Bowers (“The Chi”), and Method Man. Inspired by the century-old Fletcher Street Stables, a Black horsemanship community in Philadelphia, and Greg Neri’s novel “Ghetto Cowboy,” the film follows McLaughlin as a 15-year-old taken to live with his estranged father (Elba), where he discovers the city’s vibrant urban cowboy subculture that flourishes amid North Philadelphia’s poverty, violence, and gentrification.
Title: “New Order”
Festival: Venice, TIFF
Michel Franco’s Silver Lion-winner offers two wildly different perspectives on Mexico City: a protest and an upscale wedding. The drama centers around a new order of class stratification and military rule and serves as an indictment of authoritarian oppression and class disparity. Neon is planning a theatrical release on an unannounced date.
Title: “I Care a Lot”
Netflix’s latest acquisition out of TIFF, reportedly to the tune of $10 million, finds Rosamund Pike returning to her icy-cool “Gone Girl” persona as a woman who swindles elders. Dianne Wiest, Peter Dinklage, Eiza Gonzalez, and Chris Messina co-star in the dark comedy, directed by J Blakeson.
Courtesy of TIFF
Title: “Good Joe Bell”
Buyer: Solstice Studios
Solstice Studios picked up Reinaldo Marcus Green’s tearjerking drama “Good Joe Bell” for a reported $20 million. Based on a true story, the film stars Mark Wahlberg as a father reckoning with the suicide of his gay son, who was bullied by his classmates. It’s written by the Oscar-winning “Brokeback Mountain” team of Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana.
Title: “Shadow in the Cloud”
Festival: TIFF (Midnight Madness)
Buyer: Vertical Entertainment and Redbox Entertainment
Roseanne Liang combines action, horror, and historical drama for “Shadow in the Cloud.” Chloë Grace Moretz stars in the World War II-set film, which centers around an Allied all-male crew confronted by a female officer who boards their plane carrying a suspicious package. Strange happenings and holes in her backstory lead to paranoia surrounding her true mission, while an evil presence lurks aboard the flight. The distributors are planning a multi-platform release, including theatrical next summer.
Title: “The World to Come”
Buyer: Bleecker Street
Mona Fastvold’s period drama stars Katherine Waterston and Vanessa Kirby as two disaffected farm wives who share an intense love in the mid-19th century American frontier.
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Festival: Telluride selection, TIFF (Docs), NYFF (Main Slate)
Buyer: IFC Films
Based on newly declassified files, prolific documentarian and Spike Lee-collaborator Sam Pollard’s latest film examines FBI director J. Edgar Hoover’s campaign of surveillance and harassment against Martin Luther King, Jr. Celebrated as a hero today, King’s past as a target of US government intervention is less known, making Pollard’s work a welcome addition to today’s discourse around racism and anti-racist activism. IFC Films will release the documentary on January 15, ahead of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Holiday, timing that sets it up for an awards run.
Title: “Malcolm and Marie”
Festival: TIFF Market
The “Marriage Story”-like drama was filmed in California between June 17 and July 2. Netflix reportedly scooped it out of the marketplace based on a promo.
Title: “Pieces of a Woman”
Festival: Venice, TIFF
Vanessa Kirby won the Best Actress prize at the Venice Film Festival for her turn opposite Shia LaBeouf as one half of a Boston couple in crisis after the death of their child during a home birth gone wrong.
Title: “Shiva Baby”
Festival: TIFF (Discovery, Next Wave)
Buyer: Utopia Media
Emma Seligman’s debut feature forces star Rachel Sennott to navigate hilariously uncomfortable social situations during a post-funeral gathering. Utopia Media landed worldwide rights ahead of the premiere.
Title: “Night of the Kings”
Festival: Venice Horizons, TIFF (Contemporary World Cinema), NYFF (Main Slate)
Côte d’Ivoire director Philippe Lacôte’s visual stunner follows an incarcerated young man who is forced to spend a whole night recounting a story if he hopes to survive. Neon bought U.S. rights after its Italian premiere.
Title: “The Boy from Medellín”
Festival: TIFF (Special Events)
Latin Grammy-winner J Balvin, the “Prince of Reggaeton,” is the subject of Matthew Heineman’s latest documentary, which saw worldwide rights acquired by Amazon a few weeks ahead of its TIFF premiere.
Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics
Title: “Salvatore: Shoemaker of Dreams”
Festival: Venice (out of competition)
Buyer: Sony Pictures Classics
Director Luca Guadagnino tapped his “Call Me By Your Name” standout Michael Stuhlbarg to narrate the documentary about the life of fashion designer Salvatore Ferragamo. Sony Classics bought worldwide rights, excluding Italy.
Title: “One Night in Miami”
Festival: Venice (out of competition), TIFF (Gala)
Regina King’s directorial debut, based on the play Kemp Powers, who also wrote the story for the screen, explores the Civil Rights movement and Black celebrity through a fictionalized story of Cassius Clay (Eli Goree), Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir), Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge), and Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.) gathering to celebrate Clay’s victory against Sonny Liston. Amazon bought worldwide rights after a bidding war this summer.