TORONTO — Four days into the Toronto Intl. Film Festival, it’s slim pickin’s for acquisitions execs looking to buy domestic rights to English-lingo films.
However, Miramax has shelled out $900,000 for U.S, Australian, New Zealand and South African rights to “Jet Lag,” the French-lingo romantic comedy directed by Daniele Thompson and starring Juliette Binoche, Jean Reno and Sergi Lopez.
Also, Strand Releasing acquired U.S. rights to “Gasoline,” an Italian-lingo pic, and Cowboy Pictures has grabbed U.S. rights to “Morvern Callar,” which is screening at the fest.
But the main business of the festival thus far is not sales, it’s promotion. Unlike the early feeding frenzy at Sundance this year, the hottest available films are screening late at Toronto. Acquisitions execs are thus less frenzied than usual, able to focus on latenight revelry.
“There will be a number of acquisitions, but I don’t think there will be many high-profile films sold here,” Lions Gate Films Releasing prexy Tom Ortenberg said. “I haven’t seen anything that would inspire a bidding war.”
Over the weekend, usually-sedate Toronto was invaded by some of the film biz’s top celebs and their handlers, including Julianne Moore, Whoopi Goldberg, Michelle Pfeiffer, Pierce Brosnan, Sean and Robin Wright Penn.
In particular, the Yorkville area, the epicenter of the fest, was transformed into party central, where onlookers gawked at the parading stars.
One restaurant, Amber, hosted two consecutive packed parties Saturday — for IFC Films and then Killer Films, on hand for the gala premiere of its latest production, “Far From Heaven.” At one moment, Killer topper Christine Vachon huddled in a power corner with her patron John Wells, CAA’s Kevin Huvane and Gotham uber attorney John Sloss.
Gaylord/Pandora CEO Hunt Lowry, also spotted at the Killer party, applauded Toronto as a launchpad for pics. The company had three high-profile films screening during the fest’s opening weekend — “White Oleandar,” “Welcome to Collinwood” and “The Heart of Me.”
“What’s unique about Toronto is that the city totally embraces the festival,” Lowry said. “The talk of the town here is movies. Everyone from waitresses in sports bars to taxi drivers want to be part of the festival.”
For “Jet Lag,” Miramax won out over Focus Features and Fine Line, who also made offers. Miramax topper Harvey Weinstein’s existing relationship with Binoche — established through such Miramax releases as “The English Patient” and “Chocolat” — helped the company clinch the deal.
“Jet Lag,” which is set partially at Paris’s Charles de Gaulle Airport during an airline strike, is a remarkably timely story: A strike last week by Air France pilots resulted in major problems for French celebs and industryites headed toward Toronto.
StudioCanal senior veep of international sales Pierre Weisbein negotiated with Miramax’s Agnes Mentre, prexy of acquisitions, and Arianna Bocco, senior veep of acquisitions. StudioCanal has sold the pic in a host of other territories.
“Jet Lag” will give U.S. audiences a new taste of Academy Award winner Binoche, who this time speaks French and plays a beautician with love troubles who is stuck at the airport. There she meets an exhausted businessman, played by Gallic star Reno.
“Gasoline,” a lesbian-intrigue pic, is a love story about two young women from opposite ends of the economic and social spectrum. After the accidental death of one of their mothers, the women flee to dispose of the body and to stay together.
Film is the directorial debut of Italian filmmaker Monica Stambrini, who also served as co-screenwriter; Maya Sansa and Regina Orioli star.
Distribution rights to the film were negotiated by Strand’s co-prexy Jon Gerrans and IntraMovies’ Jeff Nuyt.
“Morvern Callar,” helmed by Lynne Ramsay and starring Samantha Morton, previously won the Prix CICAE for best film of the Cannes Directors’ Fortnight, along with the Prix de Jeunesse for best non-French film.
John Vanco, prexy of Cowboy Pictures, negotiated the deal with Charlotte Mickie, managing director of international motion picture sales for Alliance Atlantis. Film screened at Telluride and was the opening night film of the Edinburgh Film Festival. Cowboy plans a fall release.
European buyers and sellers are in full force at Toronto, although they are not doing that much business yet.
Munich-based Thorsten Schaumann of Bavaria Film Intl. said the economic crunch has made many of the Euro buyers more cautious. But he said the Europeans especially like Toronto because, in contrast to so many other international festivals, they can gauge real public reaction to the pics.