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Toronto sellers hope distribs stock up

Buyers say they'll be selective in filling out slates

There’s a lot of pressure on Toronto to show the way ahead for the film business, particularly the indies.

With a plethora of available titles — and many that are deemed quite commercial — the festival could be the place where distributors start filling out their 2009 slates. At least that’s what is driving the hopes of sales agents. Buyers, on the other hand, continue to have doubts that Toronto will be able to offer more than what the year’s other festivals provided when it comes to marketable titles.

Distribution vet Mark Urman, who is in the midst of segueing from ThinkFilm to Senator this month, says he anticipates more of the same in Toronto. “I expect this year to be typical: Highly vaunted films will disappoint, films that are below the radar will pop, and several films will find homes a few weeks after the event, once expectations and prices settle down,” he says, noting his focus in Toronto will be on “transition.”

“There appear to be fewer buyers this year, and I think films that are marginal or merely ‘interesting’ will be less in demand than in the past,” Urman adds. “But, this is pretty much it until Sundance, so I’m sure we’ll all be paying close attention, and several worthwhile titles will emerge.”

Most every buyer or seller agrees it’s strange days for the indies, with several distribs being shuttered (WIP, Picturehouse) or scaled back (Par Vantage) recently.

Optimistically, though, sales agent John Sloss says he’s bringing a crew of 20 employees. “We’re taking over an entire youth hostel,” he jokes. He says it’s not that costly to fly over from New York to Toronto, and adds that he secretly wishes Harvey Weinstein will make an appearance at the fest to get things revved up on the acquisitions front. “I miss him and his energy is lacking in the marketplace.”

But exiting Picturehouse topper Bob Berney predicts it’ll be tough for sellers to incite bidding wars. “Buyers are going to be smart. They’re looking at the market conditions and how much P&A they want to devote; they’ll have to limit the number of films they want to spend the time on to release. That could be a trend for Toronto and beyond.”

Regardless of the loss of several indie buyers, sales agents note the shuttered companies picked up few titles and that new shingles — such as CBS Films and Vivendi — as well as the distribs ramping up VOD options could be better homes for the types of midlevel films that studios won’t take on and are too big for boutique indies.

In terms of fest titles in general, new TIFF co-topper Cameron Bailey says he is impressed with the lighter fare in the lineup this year. “One thing that’s a real pleasure to see is how much gratifying comedy is coming out of the U.S. film sector,” he says, pointing to “Zack and Miri Make a Porno,” “Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist,” “Religulous” and “Burn After Reading.” “Over the last few years, we’ve seen a major shift in American cinema responding to the political and the world situation. This year it’s clear that there’s a turn toward comedy.”

Still, unspooling in Toronto are titles such as “The Hurt Locker,” an Iraq-set suspense pic centered around a bomb-diffusing specialists. It’s also one of the bigger titles with U.S. rights available. And Lionsgate/Roadside has soldiers’ homecoming tale “The Lucky Ones” showing at the fest.

And, as usual, there are a number of titles gunning for early awards consideration, such as Vantage’s “The Duchess” and Warner/Fox’s “Slumdog Millionaire.” Toronto’s friendly, film-savvy auds can help marketing mavens gauge what’s working and what’s not. They’re also handy when it comes to goosing sales for the films without distribution. The coming days will tell.

TIP SHEET

What: 33rd annual Toronto Intl. Film Festival

When: Thursday through Sept. 13

Where: Toronto

Web: tiff08.ca

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