This year’s fall festival season features a tapestry of in-person, virtual, and hybrid programming from Telluride, Venice, TIFF, and NYFF. One throughline: many of the most anticipated premieres — from “Dune” to “The Power of the Dog” — are arriving to festivals with distribution in hand.
Though the festivals have pared down the size of their lineups amid the pandemic, there’s still plenty for buyers to choose from, from discovery titles to those with bankable elements. Gastón Duprat and Mariano Cohn’s “Official Competition” features Antonio Banderas and Penélope Cruz in a rare appearance on screen together; it still has North American rights available ahead of its Venice premiere. In “Lakewood,” Phillip Noyce directs Naomi Watts as a mother racing to her child during an active-shooter incident, it premieres at TIFF. And “Beba,” a personal documentary from first-time feature director Rebeca Huntt, is catching early buzz as a potential TIFF breakout.
Distributors have already been busy scooping up titles that will screen in fall festivals after premiering at earlier festivals. Relativity Media nabbed Justine Bateman’s directorial debut “Violet,” which stars Olivia Munn and Justin Theroux, after its SXSW premiere. It’s also playing at TIFF, for example.
Below find a constantly updated list of acquisitions out of the fall festivals, beginning with world premieres acquired ahead of their debuts in the coming weeks, along with other recent acquisitions.
Title: “Marcel the Shell With Shoes On”
Dean Fleischer Camp and Jenny Slate’s stop-motion “Marcel the Shell” shorts have been a hit since they first landed on YouTube over a decade ago. Now, the Slate-voiced titular character is headed to the big screen in a film directed by Camp, who wrote the screenplay with Slate and Nick Paley, from a story by Camp, Slate, Paley, and Elisabeth Holm.
A24 announced it acquired North American rights for the movie on November 18.
Title: “Three Minutes — A Lengthening”
Festival: Venice, Telluride, and TIFF
Buyer: Super LTD
Dutch historian and cultural critic Bianca Stigter’s feature documentary ruminates on a three-minute, 16mm home movie shot by David Kurtz, which captures on film the Jewish inhabitants of a Polish town one year before the Nazis invaded. Most of those residents were eventually killed in the Treblinka extermination camp. The documentary, narrated by Helena Bonham Carter, is the latest collaboration between Stigter and co-producer Steve McQueen; Stigter was an associate producer on McQueen’s “12 Years a Slave” and “Windows.”
Super LTD announced on October 19 it had acquired the film’s North American rights and plans to release it in theaters later this year.
Buyer: Roadside Attractions
Terence Davies’ film stars Jack Lowden as WWI poet Siegfried Sassoon in a cast that includes Peter Capaldi, Geraldine James, Kate Phillips, and more.
Roadside plans to release the film in theaters in spring 2022.
Title: “Hallelujah: Leonard Cohen, A Journey, A Song”
Festival: Venice, Telluride
Buyer: Sony Pictures Classics
Dan Geller and Dayna Goldfine’s documentary is inspired by Alan Light’s book “The Holy or the Broken: Leonard Cohen, Jeff Buckley & the Unlikely Ascent of Hallelujah,” and explores Cohen through the lens of one of his most iconic songs. Cohen approved production of the film two years before he died in 2016.
SPC acquired all rights in all media worldwide, excluding France and Germany. It is planning a North American theatrical release next year.
Title: “Citizen Ashe”
Rex Miller and Sam Pollard’s documentary explores the legacy of tennis legend and humanitarian Arthur Ashe. Ashe became the first Black player to join the US Davis Cup team, won three Grand Slam singles titles, and was an activist for civil rights and HIV-related causes.
Magnolia boarded the film, which was produced by Dogwoof for CNN Films and HBO Max, in October. Magnolia will open it in New York on December 3 and in Los Angeles on December 10 as part of an Oscars campaign.
As previously announced, the documentary’s broadcast premiere will be presented by CNN Films and it will stream on HBO Max.
Rebeca “Beba” Huntt’s poetic autobiographical documentary, her feature debut, explores the dynamics of race and class she inhabited growing up as an Afro-Latina in New York City and later as a student at Bard College.
Neon plans to release the film in 2022.
Buyer: Vertical Entertainment and Roadside Attractions
Phillip Noyce’s thriller stars Naomi Watts as a woman racing against time to save her child when her town goes into lockdown during an active shooter incident.
The distributors plan to release it in the first quarter of 2022.
Robert Greene’s documentary profiles six men who survived childhood sexual assault at the hands of Catholic clergy. The men not only recount their stories on camera, but create fictional scenes depicting power rituals in the church based on memories, dreams, and experiences.
Netflix plans to release the film this fall and launch an Oscar campaign for it.
Title: “Silent Night”
Buyer: AMC+ and RLJE Films
Writer Camille Griffin’s directorial stars Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, Roman Griffin Davis, Annabelle Wallis, Lily-Rose Depp, and more in a darkly comic film about a group of friends who reunite for a Christmas dinner during their last night on Earth.
The film will be released on streaming and in theaters this December.
Title: “The Village Detective: a song cycle”
Buyer: Kino Lorber
Bill Morrison’s latest meditation on cinema’s past begins with the discovery of a Soviet film in an Icelandic fisherman’s net, an incomplete print of a popular comedy starring beloved Russian actor Mihail Žarov, offering a portal into a history that has endured on celluloid.
Kino Lorber acquired the film, which premiered at International Film Festival Rotterdam, ahead of its Telluride debut. It will open the film at IFC Center on September 22 before expanding to cities nationwide.
Title: “Huda’s Salon”
Palestinian writer-director Hany Abu-Assad, who earned Oscar nominations for “Paradise Now” and “Omar,” is back with what is being billed as a feminist thriller that unfolds against the backdrop of the geopolitical conflict in the West Bank. It follows Reem (Maisa Abd Elhadi) who goes to Huda (Manal Awad) for a haircut and an attentive ear, only for the visit to backfire when Huda blackmails her.
IFC acquired North American rights to the film a month ahead of its TIFF premiere.
Title: “One Second”
Oscar-nominated Chinese director Zhang Yimou’s latest film is adapted from a novel about a man who escapes a labor camp for a chance to catch a glimpse of his daughter, set during China’s Cultural Revolution.
The film was set to premiere at the 2019 Berlin Film Festival, but was pulled at the last minute due to “technical reasons” that some speculated was actually a result of a lack of OK from Chinese censors. After reshoots, the movie was released in China last fall with a disappointing $10.6 million gross.
Neon acquired North American rights in July.
Title: “A Banquet”
Buyer: IFC Midnight
Scottish filmmaker and visual artist Ruth Paxton’s feature debut stars Sienna Guillory (“Resident Evil”) as a widow who is radically tested when her teenage daughter (Jessica Alexander) insists that her body is no longer her own, but in service to a higher power. While her daughter refuses to eat while losing no weight, Guillory’s character is forced to confront the boundaries of her own beliefs.
IFC Midnight acquired North American rights to the movie back in December.
Festival: Telluride, TIFF
Buyer: Focus Features
Kenneth Branagh describes “Belfast” as his most personal film, one set against the tumult of the start of the Troubles in 1960s Ireland. It follows the childhood of a boy (Jude Hill), his parents (Jamie Dornan, Caitriona Balfe), and his grandparents (Judi Dench, Ciaran Hinds).
Focus acquired domestic rights to the film in December and plans to release it November 12. Universal will handle international.
Title: “The Starling”
Ted Melfi directs Melissa McCarthy and Chris O’Dowd in a film about a married couple trying to rebuild their relationship after a tragedy. McCarthy’s character tries to heal by growing a beautiful garden in her backyard, only to find herself attacked by a starling. She turns to an animal psychiatrist (Kevin Kline) who ends up making a larger impact on her life.
Netflix bought the film in April 2020 reportedly based on a script and sizzle reel for $20 million. The streamer will release the film in theaters on September 17 and on the platform September 24.
Writer-director Nathalie Biancheri’s film stars Lily-Rose Depp and George MacKay, who plays a man suffering from species dysphoria — he believes he is a wolf trapped in a human body.
Focus acquired rights to the film after production wrapped in October 2020. Universal will handle international. It’s set to hit theaters December 3.
Title: “The Electrical Life of Louis Wain”
Festival: Telluride, TIFF
“Flowers” filmmaker Will Sharpe helms this biographical drama about Louis Wain (played by Benedict Cumberbatch), an eccentric English victorian painter known for his surreal works featuring large-eyed cats. The ensemble cast also includes Claire Foy, Andrea Riseborough, Toby Jones, Taika Waititi, and Sharon Rooney.
Amazon pre-bought U.S. rights to the project several years ago. It’s set to be released in theaters October 22 before its Prime Video bow on November 5.