The Toronto International Film Festival kicks off Thursday and promises to be more sparsely attended than previous iterations which packed the Canadian city with leading lights of Hollywood, power-players and star-gazers. It’s a painful concession to the complexities of international travel during COVID, which is keeping many filmmakers, stars, studio executives and sales agents from making the trip across the border.
But that won’t stop the dealmaking that’s been a staple of past festivals from taking place. Last year, a digital TIFF still hosted mega-sales for Halle Berry’s “Bruised” and “Malcolm & Marie” with Zendaya and John David Washington. The 2021 gathering should be no different with new projects on offer from Naomi Watts, Helen Mirren, Jessica Chastain and plenty of other A-list talent. Let the deals begin!
Director: Barry Levinson
Cast: Ben Foster, Danny DeVito, Vicky Krieps, Billy Magnussen, Peter Sarsgaard
Sales Agent: Endeavor Content
Why Buyers Are Interested: The incredible true-life tale of Harry Haft, who managed to survive Auschwitz by boxing fellow prisoners. It sounds like the perfect role for Ben Foster, who has specialized in tackling complex figures in such grueling productions as “Leave No Trace” and “Hell or High Water.” Plus, Barry Levinson is an Oscar-winning director, so the movie doesn’t lack for pedigree.
Director: Philip Noyce
Cast: Naomi Watts,
Sales Agent: UTA, CAA, Endeavor Content
Why Buyers Are Interested: An edge-of-your-seat thriller that finds Naomi Watts playing a mother desperately trying to save her child as her small town enters lockdown due to an active shooter situation. Philip Noyce is a master of the genre, having previously made such edge-of-your-seaters as “Dead Calm” and “Salt.” The film should provide an acting challenge for Watts, who is in nearly every shot of the movie. It’s been compared to Tom Hardy’s bravura turn in “Locke.”
Director: John Michael McDonagh
Cast: Ralph Fiennes, Jessica Chastain, Saïd Taghmaoui, Caleb Landry Jones
Sales Agent: CAA
Why Buyers Are Interested: Oh what a lovely cast! Fiennes + Chastain = Attention Must Be Paid.
Director: Rebeca Huntt
Sales Agent: UTA
Why Buyers Are Interested: This deeply personal movie memoir from first-time feature filmmaker Rebeca “Beba” Huntt has been earmarked as one to watch and is said to herald the arrival of a bold new cinematic voice. The daughter of a Dominican father and Venezuelan mother, Huntt uses her camera to look at the historical and generational trauma she’s inherited in a fiercely urgent film that arrives as Hollywood and the world are grappling with issues of race and politics.
THE GOOD HOUSE
Directors: Maya Forbes, Wallace Wolodarsky
Sales Agent: UTA, ICM Partners
Why Buyers Are Interested: Though the box office has proven in recent years that adult-oriented dramas — which favor corsets and champagne problems over superhero spandex — are not particularly viable, exceptions still exist — especially for streaming giants hungry for counter-programming and risky artistic choices. Enter “The Good House,” which sees Sigourney Weaver play an affluent town drunk whose self-sabotage is reaching fever pitch. As a former flame, actor Kevin Kline swoops in to help her reevaluate her life and perhaps grant a shot at redemption.
HOLD YOUR FIRE
Director: Stefan Forbes
Sales Agent: Submarine
Why Buyers Are Interested: The story of the longest hostage siege in NYPD history is said to have awards potential. It examines a prolonged standoff that took place in 1973 between the police and four young Muslim men who attempt to steal guns in self-defense only to have the situation escalate. It also focuses on the police psychologist who worked to deescalate the conflict and avert tragedy.
Director: Rob Savage
Sales Agent: Endeavor Content
Why Buyers Are Interested: Horror is one of the most reliable genres at the box office and few have perfected the formula for turning scares into profits better than Blumhouse, the producer of this low-budget flick. Will “Dashcam,” which centers on a musician whose decision to break quarantine and reunite with his band in London ends in an extended chase, follow in the tradition of “Get Out,” “The Purge” and other past Blumhouse hits?
Director: Taylor Hackford
Sales Agent: Endeavor Content
Why Buyers Are Interested: Taylor Hackford’s feature film “Sniff” comes to Toronto as a “package,” meaning the project is early stages and is not completed. Though not featured in the competition or premieres section at TIFF, sales agent Endeavor Content will present the film to buyers in town. And, frankly, it sounds fantastic. Hackford has recruited an army of A-listers of a certain age including his partner Helen Mirren, Al Pacino, Morgan Freeman and Danny DeVito for the project. The film is a take on classic noir mysteries, set in a luxury retirement home.
Director: Stephen Fingleton
Sales Agent: UTA, CAA Media Finance
Why Buyers Are Interested: Film festivals are often breeding grounds for experimental filmmaking, be it unique technical points of view or exercises in augmented and virtual reality. At TIFF, director Stephen Fingleton delivers the elusive “single take” movie — one that the filmmakers swear is one seamless shot over the course of a single night. It’s the kind of hook that has studios salivating. In “Nightride,” billed as a humorous thriller, actor Moe Dunford stars as a smalltime dealer attempting one last run with cash borrowed from a dangerous loan shark. When the handover goes catastrophically wrong, he finds himself in a race against time to find his missing product and get a new buyer before the loan shark tracks him down.
BIG GOLD BRICK
Director: Brian Petsos
Sales Agent: Arclight Films; US and Canadian Distributor: Samuel Goldwyn Films
Why Buyers Are Interested: Andy Garcia, Emory Cohen, Megan Fox, Lucy Hale and Oscar Isaac star in the story of fledgling writer Samuel Liston (Cohen) and his experience with Floyd Deveraux (Garcia), the enigmatic middle-age father of two who enlists Samuel to write his biography. But the circumstances that led to this arrangement in the first place are quite astonishing, and efforts to write the biography are quickly stymied by ensuing chaos in this darkly comedic, genre-bending film.
Director: Alex Lehman
Sales Agent: The Exchange, ICM
Why Buyers Are Interested: Buzzy stars Kaley Cuoco — hot off hit series “The Flight Attendant” — and Pete Davidson topline pic that asks the question: What would you do if you could travel to your loved ones’ past, heal their traumas, fix their problems, and change them into the perfect partner?
ONE TRUE LOVES
Director: Andy Fickman
Sales Agent: Highland Film Group reps international with the company’s domestic distribution arm, the Avenue, acquiring domestic rights.
Why Buyers Are Interested: “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the 10 Rings” star Simu Liu is the biggest thing onscreen on the planet right now, and he co-stars here with ‘Hamilton’s” Phillipa Soo and Aussie actor Luke Bracey in a story of high school sweethearts Emma (Soo) and Jesse (Bracey). They venture away from their small town to build an exciting life together traveling the world. But when Jesse disappears in a helicopter crash over the Pacific Ocean on their one-year anniversary, a heartbroken Emma returns home to pick up the pieces of her life. After four years, Emma has found happiness once again, running her parents’ bookshop and newly engaged to her childhood best friend, Sam (Liu). But her life flips upside down when she receives a phone call that Jesse is alive.
Director: Steve Pink
Sales Agent: UTA
Why Buyers Are Interested: From “Grosse Point Blank” and “High Fidelity,” Steve Pink moves into new territory with an intimate dram about relationships, influenced by European auteurs. Albee and Walker, a young couple on the brink of divorce, rent a mountain getaway to save their fledgling marriage. Before long, their personal drama creates tension between their newly engaged AirBnB hosts — Ben & Carly — leaving us to wonder if either couples’ relationships will survive the weekend.
Director: Bretten Hannam
Sales Agent: Films Boutique
Why Buyers Are Interested: When Link discovers his Mi’kmaw mother is still alive, he runs away from home with his younger brother Travis, in a desperate gamble to start a new life. They’re soon joined by Pasmay, a pow wow dancer drawn to Link’s story. Together they embark on a Two-Spirit odyssey, reconnecting with the culture and the territory of Mi’kma’ki in Nova Scotia, Canada, while trying to find Link’s mother, Sarah.