Foreign sales boost, Stateside buyers hold off for now

TORONTO — As the Toronto fest draws to a close this weekend, plenty of pics were given fall release/award promo boosts, but just a handful of U.S. distribution deals closed.

Domestic buyers took a cautious approach, canvassing the 100-plus available films but largely holding back on inking deals.

Foreign buyers were much more active, pulling the trigger on titles including “The Joneses,” “I Am Love,” “A Single Man” and “The Disappearance of Alice Creed.”

“It’s been a very strange experience,” said “Joneses” producer Doug Mankoff. “We’ve done extremely well on foreign — we’ve sold three-quarters of the world. The U.S. guys are just being very slow and very careful.”

But Mankoff said he expected the Stateside reticence to some extent.

“We knew it would be a buyer’s market, with too many pictures around and no urgency for buyers to bid up pictures,” said ICM’s Hal Sadoff, who is on the “Joneses” sales team. “The good news is there were foreign sales made on a number of films and a lot of interest on the domestic front.”

Meanwhile, the producer of Darwin biopic “Creation” charged that American buyers were too worried about the religious right to buy the film. Jeremy Thomas told the U.K.’s Guardian newspaper: “It has got a deal everywhere else in the world but in the U.S., and it’s because of what the film is about.”

Industryites expected deals to continue well after the festival, as several distribs were starting to zero in on titles now that most have been seen.

On Thursday, Magnolia acquisitions chief Tom Quinn reported that he’d been chasing more titles at Toronto than at any festival in recent memory.

IFC Films, another busy buyer on the fest scene in the last few years, also could be making more deals over the coming days and weeks. Distrib already picked up Danish helmer Nicolas Winding Refn’s “Valhalla Rising” on Monday.

There are also newer buyers in the marketplace who are making offers on films up here — though many are not coming in with studio-level numbers (i.e., mid- to high-seven figures or eight figures).

Among them is Phase 4 Films CEO Berry Meyerowitz. He reported that he’s aiming to release at least one theatrical title a month to expand his already busy Canadian-U.S. ancillaries biz. He said he can offer to spend low-seven figures on a theatrical campaign, but that means distribs won’t go home with money in their pockets upfront.

In the final days of the fest, producers and sellers still seem to be waiting for that near-elusive “big advance.” So those leaner deals could be a ways off.

(Michael Fleming contributed to this report.)

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