Biz hopes big sale at fest could spur others

The Toronto Film Festival continues to cement its dual reputation as a place for pickups as well as an effective pre-kudos season marketing hub.

Though no major deals have surfaced so far, Stateside and foreign distribs are looking at several pics.

Among films screened in the opening days of the fest, titles piquing interest include Jordan Scott’s “Cracks,” with Eva Green; Robert Duvall drama “Get Low”; Demi Moore-David Duchovny pic “The Joneses”; Michael Caine starrer “Harry Brown”; Michael Douglas pic “Solitary Man”; Oz horror pic “The Loved Ones”; Tilda Swinton starrer “I Am Love”; and Atom Egoyan’s “Chloe.”

Venice fest transfers, such as “The Hole,” “Life During Wartime,” “Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans” and “A Single Man,” are also in the mix.

But over the first weekend of the fest, most of the noise was coming from films that already have Stateside distribution.

On Friday night, Overture showed off George Clooney-Ewan McGregor satire “Men Who Stare at Goats.” On Saturday night, Paramount premiered another Clooney title, Jason Reitman’s “Up in the Air,” while Focus Features bowed the Coen brothers’ “A Serious Man.” Both Reitman and the Coens consider Toronto a favorite launchpad.

Toronto’s famously appreciative auds greeted pics with rousing applause, and distributors felt the value of flying in stars and execs for the merry-go-round of screenings, press conferences and parties.

For many studios, Toronto serves as a marketing tool for fall releases and an awards season warm-up round. “Up in the Air” firmly staked its claim, with lots of positive responses to the pic and the performances.

On the acquisition side, several sellers were gloomy that films weren’t igniting bidding wars. Some wondered whether the old indie model — scrape together financing, and then secure a U.S. distribution deal after a fest opening — is becoming outmoded.

A buyers market has been in full effect for some time. And P&A-cost challenges continue to affect the lower-level deals and prices paid compared to years past.  

Still, several promising titles are only just being unveiled, and dealmaking rarely happens overnight in the current marketplace. The mood could also change in an instant with a good bidding battle, as it did last year with “The Wrestler,” which jumped into the ring at Toronto after winning the Golden Lion in Venice.

The Tom Ford-directed “A Single Man,” for which Colin Firth received actor honors at Venice, could benefit from the fest heat. Many of the major buyers will be getting their first peek of the film today in Toronto.

Sellers hope a significant sale might light a fuse that will lead to deals for more films.

Until that happens, the ones smiling most in Toronto were the studios getting a jump on filling those 10 best picture Oscar nomination slots.

(Jennie Punter contributed to this report.)

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