Sellers debate whether to screen pics before festival

To screen early or not to screen early — that is the question.

With the acquisitions market expected to be especially busy this year at the Toronto Film Festival, some sellers are opting to show a handful of titles early to U.S. buyers.

That list includes Keira Knightley-Sam Worthington starrer “Last Night” from first-time feature director Massy Tadjedin.

“Last Night” — the closing night film at Toronto — was set to have been released by Miramax, but those plans have changed in the wake of Disney’s sale of the specialty label to Ron Tutor and a group of private investors. Sale has yet to close.

Disney declined comment on the status of “Last Night.”

“Last Night” was produced by Nick Wechsler Prods. and French company Gaumont. Pic, which also stars Eva Mendes, was shot in late 2008. Film was slated to open in March, but its release was postponed when the Mouse Housebegan shopping Miramax.

CAA is repping domestic rights on “Last Night,” while Gaumont is handling international sales.

“In a difficult marketplace, people are showing titles beforehand. They can’t necessarily rely on the heat of a festival screening,” one veteran buyer said. “At a time when there fewer buyers, you want to get your product out in front. They also could be films that are a tough sell.”

Other Toronto titles quietly being screened for domestic distribs include Robert Redford’s historical pic “The Conspirator” and Will Ferrell drama “Everything Must Go.” Dustin Hoffman-Paul Giamatti topliner “Barney’s Version” also is reportedly being shown to some.

Outside the fest, domestic rights to Peter Weir’s “The Way Back” could be shopped during Toronto, with the film already starting to be screened for some domestic distribs. (There’s speculation that Weir’s film could pop up at the Telluride Film Fest, which unspools this weekend.)

“The Conspirator,” toplining Robin Wright and James McAvoy, was financed and produced by entrepreneur J. Joseph Ricketts through his American Film Co. Ricketts is an avid history buff who was fascinated by the story of the only woman charged as a co-conspirator in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.

CAA also is repping domestic rights on Redford’s film.

“Everything Must Go” stars Ferrell as a down-and-out man who holds a garage sale in an effort to turn his life around. Film was produced and financed by Temple Hill Entertainment. ICM and CAA are co-repping domestic rights, while IM Global is selling the film overseas.

Still, most films looking for a North American distribution deal won’t be shown to buyers until Toronto, considered the most audience-friendly of all the festivals. A film drawing a positive audience reaction, combined with good reviews, could be all the more appealing to distribs looking for product.

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