Distributors can’t wait to be back in person and need content, but many of the film festival’s hottest titles lean very indie
There’s no shortage of films available and many buyers needing to fill their slates for 2023. But experts are divided on whether that means traditional theater buyers will be the most active or if major streamers will splatter.
“People need movies for next year because there are quite a few distributors who have smaller slates, so I think there will be a lot of activity,” said Kent Sanderson, head of acquisitions at Bleecker Street, at TheWrap. “I think a lot of these titles will sell out. I just think a lot of them may sell Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, or Friday, next week, rather than the weekend.
Studios are expected to circle star vehicles like Nicolas Cage’s Western “Butcher’s Crossing” and Catherine Hardwicke’s crime drama “Prisoner’s Daughter” starring Brian Cox and Kate Beckinsale. Others watch documentaries, like “The Grab” by “Blackfish” director Gabriela Cowperthwaite, about covert efforts to gobble up the world’s food and land resources, and Werner Herzog’s look at new technologies, “Theatre of Thought”, which was first created in Telluride.
And there are even a handful of Midnight Madness titles that are garnering buzz, like “The People’s Joker,” which reimagines Joaquin Phoenix’s film “Joker” as a coming-of-age story, and “Sisu,” an action-packed World War II epic from Finnish director Jalmari Helander but told primarily in English.
While some think there may not be an obvious sell title, festivals always have surprises in store. And an agent warns last year’s ‘CODA’, which sold for $25 million at Sundance 2021 and won the Best Picture Oscar, also didn’t feel like a sure thing ahead of the festival. . A sleeper on this year’s Toronto slate might be “Wildflower,” which stars Kiernan Shipka, Jean Smart and Jacki Weaver and, similar to “CODA,” is a coming-of-age story about a girl. living with two neurodivergent parents.
Many films arrive in Toronto with some form of international distribution already in place, which could dampen the enthusiasm of streamers like Netflix or Apple TV+ who typically focus on massive global deals. It could also open the door to more traditional theater buyers and day-and-date actors.
“In film, international movie buyers need to be extremely careful,” said Nick Donnermeyer, who heads the business arm of Yale Entertainment production company Great Escape. “Indie movies haven’t fully come back yet, so you really have to calculate the moves and make sure you find the right movies.”
Among domestic buyers, Neon is seen as the most likely to continue its aggressive acquisition streak. Searchlight has a handful of awards season films slated for the festival, including ‘Empire of Light,’ ‘The Menu,’ and ‘Knight,’ but is likely to pick up titles for Hulu, as it has made with “Fresh” and “Good Luck”. to you, Leo Grande” from Sundance. And a potential buyer could be Paramount+ and Showtime, which an agent says have become paying buyers in recent years.
IFC Films is “absolutely going with an open checkbook,” CEO Arianna Bocco said, noting the company is looking forward to filling out its 2023 slate. The independent distributor is screening ‘Corsage’ and ‘RMN’ – both acquired at Cannes last May – and has already caught Stephen Frears’ “The Lost King” ahead of its world premiere at TIFF.
Bocco noted that the film market has changed in recent months as the impacts of COVID production shutdowns have diminished. “We’re kind of seeing the end of the ramifications of COVID,” she said. “A lot of companies, ourselves included, started acquiring films at an earlier stage…instead of waiting for the market. So I think it’s a combination of ease across the board. buying projects at earlier stages as well as residuals from COVID.
The 2021 TIFF lineup was down slightly and had even fewer titles available for sale than this year, with the most notable acquisitions being for films like the Holocaust drama ‘The Survivor’ and the Sigourney Weaver romance. The Good House”. But the Sundance or Cannes markets this year came back strong. Apple’s $15 million acquisition of Sundance’s “Cha Cha Real Smooth” headlined a festival that also produced $7.5 million in buys for “Good Luck to You, Leo Grande” for Searchlight and a mid-seven-figure contract from NatGeo for “Fire of Love.” And Cannes produced something of a race to acquire Ruben Östlund’s Palme d’Or winner “Triangle of Sadness” before it eventually went to Neon.
Over the past two years of mostly virtual festivals, including those at Sundance and Cannes, sales have not been limited to official festival dates, as many titles have sold out weeks before or after their premieres. Now that festivals have the ability to put butts back in seats, that trend is starting to change. Buyers want the ability to see how a movie performs with an audience, and sales agents don’t have to check the logs of who watched a virtual screening before following along.
“You win if you can wait,” said Liesl Copland, executive vice president of content and platform strategy at Participant. “We all desperately want to be reminded why we’re in the business and being in rooms for the same for the first time with others is a big reason why.”
The Toronto International Film Festival begins Thursday and will run until Sunday, September 18.
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