Toronto film fest looks to lure buy-curious

Wed Sep 3, 2008 2:12am EDT
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By Steven Zeitchik and Gregg Goldstein

NEW YORK (Hollywood Reporter) - A number of high-profile movies are hoping to beat the odds and find receptive buyers at the Toronto International Film Festival, which kicks off Thursday.

Whether they succeed -- and at what price tags -- will depend less on the films themselves than on how much risk wary studios are willing to take.

"A lot of companies have full lineups for next year, so they're not desperate for product," said Tom Bernard, co-president of Sony Pictures Classics.

Veteran dealmaker John Sloss said "fear and anxiety are in the air," but added that "distributors still have a need for good films, and the audience eyeballs haven't gone away."

It's been a tumultuous year on the buyer side since the last Toronto, with four companies either shutting down or overhauling their mandates -- Warner Independent, Picturehouse, Paramount Vantage and ThinkFilm. And buying activity at the Sundance and Cannes film festivals earlier this year was muted.

One of the films most likely to snag a deal at Toronto's unofficial market is "Requiem for a Dream" director Darren Aronofsky's "The Wrestler," a profile of an aging athlete played by Mickey Rourke.

While the film might be more of an awards play than a broad commercial entry -- those familiar with it said it was more atmospheric and character-driven than narrative -- executives like Sony Classics' Bernard said Rourke's performance should drive interest. "The Wrestler" will have its world premiere at the Venice International Film Festival on Friday, two days before its more buyer-heavy bow in Toronto.

Star power should also help draw buyers to other available titles at the festival. Jennifer Aniston's romantic comedy 'Management," a Sidney Kimmel Entertainment film in which the "Friends" veteran plays an art dealer pursued by an oddball suitor, is expected to clock in with one of the bigger sales.   Continued...

<p>Director Darren Aronofsky arrives for a film premiere in Hollywood, November 12, 2006. REUTERS/Jason Redmond</p>