Toronto sales up a bit Tuesday

Weinsteins buy up 'Diary' for $2 million

After a lull, the buying picked up Tuesday at the Toronto Film Festival with some North American purchases. The consensus emerging from the event’s 32nd edition is that no title has been a total knockout, at least on the acquisitions circuit.

The biggest deal occurred late Tuesday, when the Weinstein Co. reeled in North American rights, including Mexico, to “Diary of the Dead,” George Romero’s back-to-basics zombie flick. The price was said to $2 million. TWC will release the pic in early ’08.

Apocalyptic zombie film details Romero’s return to his early indie zombie roots.

Barry Gordon negotiated for TWC along with Michal Podell; Dan Steinman negotiated for seller, Cinetic Media.

Earlier in the day Overture Films paid just north of $1 million for the North American rights to “The Visitor.” Deal includes significant backend participation.

Warner Independent, in tandem with Netflix’s Red Envelope, paid $1.2 million for Alan Ball’s divisive feature directing debut, “Nothing Is Private.”

That deal sees the studio pick up U.S. rights for the pic, about a 13-year-old Lebanese-American girl’s sexual coming of age in the U.S. during the first Gulf War in 1991. UTA had been handling U.S. sales, and Gallic shingle Celluloid Dreams had already presold the majority of international territories at Cannes.

Red Envelope’s part of the pact was still being ironed out, but it involves a substantial P&A commitment. The company cited strong Netflix numbers from Ball’s video catalog as a motivator.

Film is drawing controversy for its explicit depiction of rape and pedophilia.

Pact for “The Visitor,” a movie widely admired since its Friday preem, closed late Monday. Tom McCarthy’s bighearted drama stars longtime character actor Richard Jenkins in a lead role and takes on both middle-age malaise and immigration policy with a tone reminiscent of the actor-helmer’s “The Station Agent.”

Pic is the first production by Michael London’s Groundswell. Participant also is a producer. Andrew Hurwitz of Schreck, Rose repped the sale.

Overture prevailed over the handful of other bidders because it “made a large, muscular financial commitment to the marketing of the film,” London said, “way beyond what’s normal for this kind of picture.”

Overture chief exec Chris McGurk said a fourth-quarter 2007 release was a possibility, but “we’re going to speak to the filmmakers after the festival and decide what’s best.”

To questions some raised about tricky marketability, Overture’s Danny Rosett responded: “The campaign will be all about execution. Ultimately, it’s a winning film, so we’re going to be screening it a lot and letting the film itself do a lot of the initial work.”

Hurwitz said he closed deals with TF1 for France and Switzerland and was pursuing deals in other territories.

Also on the international front, French film company Wild Bunch was expecting to imminently finalize deals for Rodrigo Pla’s “La zona,” Claude Chabrol’s “The Girl Cut in Two,” Alain Corneau’s “The Second Wind” and Hana Makhmalbaf’s “Buddha Collapsed Out of Shame.”

Wild Bunch has multiple offers from U.S. distribs on the table for all four pics. While Chabrol and Corneau are well-established Gallic helmers, Mexican helmer Pla and 19-year-old Iranian Makhmalbaf are new arrivals on the fest circuit.

“It’s a powerful film and doesn’t come over as a small Iranian film. It’s actually unlike any other Iranian film,” said Wild Bunch’s Carole Barraton, who is handling negotiations with U.S. distribs.

The increase in business activity didn’t stop attending helmers from extolling the creative virtues of Toronto.

“Toronto is everything you dreamed a glamorous European film festival would be when you were growing up,” said Brit helmer Joe Wright, whose “Atonement” is garnering strong awards buzz following acclaimed bows at both Venice and Toronto.

Acclaim also came from Canuck helmer David Cronenberg, whose “Eastern Promises” wowed audiences with its take on Russian mobsters in London. Pic is the first the helmer has shot entirely outside of Canada. “I feel like I’ve come full circle,” Cronenberg said.

“The festival and I have grown up together. We both started in relative obscurity and have both grown to achieve some measure of international reputation,” he continued. “It can be frustrating for those used to the rules and regulations of Cannes, but most buyers and sellers are creative people, too. The lack of formality can be an advantage.”

Another uber-vet, Canadian producer-distributor Robert Lantos, 10 of whose pics have opened the fest dating back to 1976, isn’t quite as upbeat.

“Toronto used to be a place for discoveries,” he said. “The idea of a festival is to shine a light on dark nooks and crannies. But that model plays out less and less each year as movie stars come in with their private jets to do their junkets.”

Both “Atonement” and “Eastern Promises” are being released in the U.S. by Focus Features, whose fall lineup also includes Ang Lee’s Golden Lion winner “Lust, Caution” and Terry George’s “Reservation Road,” all bowing at Toronto in Gala presentations.

“It is almost at the levels that human endurance can sustain right now in terms of the number of festivals, but I don’t think Toronto is suffering,” Focus co-topper James Schamus said. “The festival is in its full maturity, and they’re managing their size pretty well.

“As for us right now, shoot me if I don’t tell you I’m ridiculously happy.”

(Sharon Swart and Anne Thompson contributed to this report.)

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