Last year German sales exec Andreas Rothbauer took “Downfall” to Toronto, where it preemed in a gala screening, with mixed expectations for the powerful but potentially controversial Hitler biopic.
“In the light of its success people have forgotten that buyers were initially very cautious about the film,” recalls the head of theatrical sales at Beta Cinema.
He credits the pic’s preem at Toronto with turning the situation around.
“Once the Toronto audience started reacting to the film it was a whole different story,” he explains. “We’d done a few pre-sales in Cannes off a promo reel but sales really took off following the Toronto screening.”
The film was subsequently sold into a number of initially reticent territories including Israel (Shani) and the U.S. (Newmarket) and went on to get a foreign-language Oscar nod.
This year, Beta has high hopes for Hermine Huntgeburth’s gala-screener “White Masai” about a Swiss woman who falls for a Kenyan tribesman. It is among some 100 European titles screening in Toronto.
“Downfall” is one of a slew of Euro pics to have found favor in the North American market via Toronto over the past decade. This track record coupled with the care and attention Toronto pays its European guests is attracting increasing numbers of sales execs and producers from across the Atlantic.
“We’re expecting record European attendance this year,” says former Raitrade sales exec Giulia Filippelli who now heads up Toronto’s Sales Office. “Interestingly, we’ve registered a lot more European buyers coming over specifically to check out European titles.”
“Toronto might be in North America, but there is equal focus on North American and European films,” says Annakarin Wolfsberg, CEO of Danish Trust Film Sales.
“What’s also great about Toronto is that it is audience focused, so you get a great feel for what the public and not just professionals think about a film,” says Wolfsberg.
She is hoping Toronto’s audience focus will work to Trust’s advantage with Lebanese-Swedish Josef Fares’ autobiographical special presentation-screener “Zozo.” Fares’ “Jalla! Jalla!” and “Kopps” previously went down well at the fest.
“Josef’s films are very audience-related, which makes them perfect for Toronto,” says Wolfsberg.
Debutant attendee German producer Peter Rommel is hoping to drum up interest in Andreas Dresen’s coming-of-age drama “Summer in Berlin,” screening in Contemporary World Cinema. A darling of the Euro film fest scene for works such as his 2002 “Grill Point,” Dresen is little known in North America.
“This will be my first time in Toronto,” says Rommel. “I’ve heard very good things about the festival as a gateway into North America. From the early stages of the film, I thought it would be helpful for the director to go to Toronto. Not so much with the expectation of making a sale but more to raise awareness of his work in North America.”
But how does Toronto fit into the industry’s busy late summer/fall calendar alongside Venice, San Sebastian and the slightly later AFM in November?
Many sales agents and producers like to combine Toronto with a screening at a European event like Venice and San Sebastian but say most business is done at the Canadian fest.
“Venice is a fantastic festival but it’s a place where you window shop rather than buy,” says one buyer.
The jury is still out on how AFM’s changed fall dates will ultimately affect Toronto. Most big players say they will attend both but suspect smaller outfits with fewer financial resources may have to choose between the two.
“We definitely need a fall market for commercial films that don’t make it into the festivals, but many European companies feel like they disappear at the AFM — it’s so focused on the big commercial U.S. films,” says Wolfsberg.
Beta’s Rothbauer, meanwhile, believes there is a good synergy between Toronto and the AFM.
“We’ll launch ‘White Masai’ and start pre-selling upcoming titles like Sergei Bodrov’s ‘Mongol’ at Toronto. In the interim we’ll evaluate what came out of Toronto and carry on dealmaking with the aim of fully closing sales at the AFM.”