Fest's informal bazaar sees buyer attendance increase 40%

As a festival, Toronto has a reputation, like Berlin, for being one of the most meticulously organized events on the circuit. Screenings run on time, prints don’t get lost and talent shows up pretty much on schedule. But, unlike Berlin, Toronto does not have an official market component.

“The idea is not to become a market because I don’t believe anybody needs another structured market like AFM and Cannes,” says Giulia Filippelli, the recently appointed head of the fest’s sales office. “Buyers love to be free, to not be chased, and rather go and do their job, which is to see movies and eventually buy them.”

Nonmarket

At its core, this nonmarket consists of some 400 press and industry screenings, and the sales office, which handles accreditation and runs the screenings. A few booths and sales offices can be found scattered throughout Toronto’s Sutton Place hotel.

The number of registered film buyers this year is up 40%, with more than 1,000 execs hitting town from 530 companies and 47 countries. Filippelli reports large increases in representation from China and Japan.

Those acquisition execs will have an array to choose from including many Toronto world premieres; buzzed-up films from the recent Locarno, Venice and Telluride festivals; and some catch-up material that preemed originally at Cannes.

Among the hot international titles being unveiled are “L’Enfer,” “Tideland,” “Mistress of Spices,” “The White Masai” and French cautionary tale “Backstage.”

Asia presents a selection that demonstrates the region’s growing self-confidence and expanding film budgets. Notable among these are South Korean period actioner “The Duelist”; Korean meller “April Snow”; and Stanley Kwan’s Chinese literary adaptation “Everlasting Regret,” which many distribs might have missed due to a scheduling overlap with Venice.

With the boffo Stateside success of “March of the Penguins,” the docu section also is likely to get more scrutiny than ever, as North American buyers search for the next breakout.

The notion that buyers will see films at Venice and do their business deals at Toronto isn’t helping Venice organizers’ dream to launch their own market. But there are plenty of reasons why the trend persists.

Some people are only just returning from holiday at the end of August, when Venice kicks off. This, coupled with the lagoon fest’s somewhat tricky layout, means that key buyers might not be able to screen all of the available films. Sellers also are reluctant to commit to North American deals in Venice until their entire list of potential clients has seen the picture. And that means all eyes turn to Toronto.

Going global

The Toronto festival and its industry side are trying to shake off the primarily North American tag and present both events as international.

“The Europeans and the Asians have become part of the game,” says Noah Cowan, Toronto’s co-director. “A lot of that has to do with the success last year of (foreign-language Oscar nominee) ‘Downfall,’ which had its world premiere in Toronto. The German producers and film sales agents have become extremely focused on (Toronto).”

“Nowadays Toronto is pretty much an international market with a (buyer) focus on North America, the U.K., France and Japan,” adds Wouter Barendrecht, co-prexy of sales company Fortissimo Films, which has six movies at the festival, including three world preems. “These territories are out in full force. The U.S. and U.K. because of the common language, France it may be a matter of timing and Japan because the buyers go to the markets where there was previously a lot of buying activity.”

But other than the Japanese — who rep up to 30% of the total buyers, according to Filippelli — Asian buyers aren’t exactly flocking to Toronto. For many from Hong Kong and South East Asia, it is too far to go on a whim and a prayer.

“Most Hong Kong buyers are very cautious these days as box office has not been good and P&A costs are rising,” says Intercontinental’s Nan Wong, who has dropped Toronto from her schedule this year and will go to Pusan and the American Film Market instead. “Venice is about niche titles, Toronto is more mainstream. And the AFM still more so.”

In general, however, Toronto has benefited from the AFM’s rescheduling from February to November. “There’s enough space between the Toronto Film Festival and the AFM that people can actually go home, reflect and conclude the business that’s begun on paper at the Toronto Film Festival,” notes Cowan.

(Brendan Kelly contributed to this story.)

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