A number of new films by Atom Egoyan, Werner Herzog, Neil Jordan and other high-profile directors still haven't found distribution deals going into next month's Toronto International Film Festival, as industry buyers become increasingly focused on seeing the finished product and gauging audience reactions.
The recession has made distributors and film exhibition companies more cautious, which puts more emphasis on the role of festivals in testing how the public responds to certain projects. Among the more notable movies still available for distribution deals are: Egoyan's Chloe , starring Liam Neeson and Julianne Moore; Herzog's Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans , starring Nicolas Cage; and Jordan's Ondine , starring Colin Farrell.
TIFF's list of roughly 100 films up for grabs also includes fashion designer Tom Ford's directorial debut, A Single Man , Rob Stefaniuk's comedy Suck and Brigitte Berman's documentary Hugh Hefner: Playboy, Activist and Rebel. Also on the list are two other highly-anticipated documentaries, Colony and The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers.
Last year, two films, The Wrestler starring Mickey Rourke and Slumdog Millionaire , dominated buyers' attention. This year is different. "We have a breadth of movies that are sticking out, and buyers may not be as certain [which]is the 'big one,'" said Stefan Wirthensohn, director of the festival's sales and industry office.
"In that sense, I like it better because it's a bit wider, and people will be running to get tickets to attend movies. Last year, they were running for many movies as well, but it was a little bit peak heavy because of those two," Wirthensohn said. "It always goes in those waves. ... This year, it is a really, really deep list of films that are available for acquisitions."
That's not to say that these films don't already have some deals in place for certain markets or that their producers aren't already in close talks with buyers. As is custom, many producers hold off on signing until after their TIFF premieres in order to play off any positive reaction their films receive.
Buyers too are now more inclined to wait.
It used to be more common for films to be bought by distributors earlier in the process, even at the screenplay stage, with only star actors attached to the project. But these days, the general sense is that "buyers are not ready to put up the money, because money is tight," Wirthensohn said. "They want to see a more finished product before they put the money in."
Because TIFF is an informal marketplace, with deals being done during the festival on cellphones and in hotel lobbies, there is no official clearinghouse for buying and selling, nor is there any way for the festival to track how close producers and distributors may already be in closing a deal. It's up to the buyers to ask the producers themselves.
It's part of the different function TIFF has, compared to the Berlin festival and Cannes. Cannes, in particular, puts a heavy emphasizes on its film competition and therefore on "auteur cinema." TIFF doesn't have a similar competition. So the focus is simply on introducing a plethora of world films to the North American market, Wirthensohn explained.