Speciality labels ready to pounce at small gems from o'seas

With hundreds of movies programmed from 60 countries, the Toronto Film Festival has lived up to its rep as a major resource for world cinema. Once again, foreign sales agents will descend on the Canadian city looking to crack the North American marketplace, while U.S. buyers will search for gems from France to Germany, Mongolia to South Korea.

Toronto co-director Noah Cowan says the festival has always been a significant gateway for foreign films into the North American market. But this year, he notes, so many non-English-language directors — like Bahman Ghobadi and Robert Guediguian — are actually bringing world premieres to Toronto for the first time, when traditionally they would go to a European festival first.

Buyers are ready to pounce. “I’ll be there with bells on,” says Sony Pictures Classics senior VP Dylan Leiner, whose company was one of the most acquisitive at last year’s fest. “(Toronto is) the perfect combination of the best films from the European festivals of the prior winter and spring, and newer films just ready to make their debut.”

Expectations are high for this year’s festival, with buyers and sellers saying the marketplace, despite a still-foundering world economy, is getting better. “There was a sign of a rebound in Cannes,” says Greene-Street Films Intl.’s Cedric Jeanson. “There was a bit of shakedown with a lot of people getting hurt, so there’s less players, but now they’re more healthy, and they need films.”

While Jeanson says buyers are still cautious about pre-sales, he points to Greene-Street’s Toronto world premiere, Sally Potter’s “Yes,” as an example of a finished film that is primed to activate this year’s acquisitions pump. “Toronto is the perfect launch pad to introduce it to all the labels.”

“Toronto is the best place to reach U.S. buyers, because they’re looking for the specific kind of movies — sometimes smaller — that Europeans are making,” says Claudia Landsberger, prexy of European Film Promotion, which will once again host its signature European Directors Panel at the fest.

“You get really excited about discovering those smaller films,” echoes Daniel Katz, VP of acquisitions at ThinkFilm, which plans to aggressively pursue arthouse fare in the wake of a recent cash infusion. “It’s like ordering well at a strange restaurant.”

While U.K. sales outfit Odyssey Entertainment’s “The Libertine,” starring Johnny Depp, and Beyond Films’ Aussie crowdpleaser “Oyster Farmer” are two of the meatier movies with U.S. rights available, a number of more modest international pics could find a home during the festival.

“We are quite confident that titles like ‘Stray Dogs’ and ‘Low Life’ could generate bidding competitions,” says Wild Bunch topper Vincent Maraval, “while titles like ‘Innocence,’ ‘Cafe Lumiere’ and ‘Kings and Queens’ should find their niche.”

“We have a sense that people are eager,” agrees Trust Film Sales chief Annakarin Strom, who will be repping Susanne Bier’s “Brothers” and Lukas Moodysson’s “A Hole in My Heart.” “We have received a lot of interest in (these films) prior to this year’s festival.” Trust also will show DVD promos of Thomas Vinterberg’s latest, “Dear Wendy,” to potential suitors.

Sales agent Celluloid Dreams is going one step further by setting up shop in an art gallery behind the Varsity cinema to host buyers and project films, according to Celluloid managing director Charlotte Mickie. She’ll be touting documentaries such as “Touch the Sound” and “Darwin’s Nightmare” as well as the new film from Francois Ozon, “5×2.”

“Toronto is becoming increasingly important,” says Mickie. “There’s more of a buyer presence and it’s more of a place to do business.”

And with the American Film Market’s shift to nearby November, Mickie says, “It’s a positive for Toronto. You start in Venice, pick up the pace in Toronto and close off in AFM.”

For Capitol Films’ Jane Barclay, repping Gala premiere “Five Children and It” and Chazz Palminteri’s directorial debut, “Noel,” as well as a number of pics in post-production (“Ask the Dust,” “The Big White”), “Toronto is just as crucial as the AFM. I doubt that a close AFM will impact on Toronto.”

In fact, with the skyrocketing market potential of the Canadian festival, Barclay adds: “It remains to be seen whether Toronto will in any way diminish the AFM.”

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