September 3, 2008 / 5:43 AM / 10 years ago

Toronto film fest looks to lure buy-curious

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.

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

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.

“High School Musical” pinup Zac Efron brings a youthful feel to Richard Linklater’s period piece “Me and Orson Welles,” though footage of the film got mixed reactions in Cannes. And the presence and promotional support of NBA star LeBron James for “More than a Game,” about James’ high school team, should help elevate the documentary beyond the category’s recent, modest expectations.

Gabor Csupo’s family fantasy “The Secret of Moonacre” also could use the leverage of commercial potential to attract some big bids. The movie bypassed the Hollywood studio system by getting financing out of Europe.

Buyers looking for films across a range of genres will find at least one high-profile entry in each.

Kathryn Bigelow’s Iraq-set “The Hurt Locker” could satisfy buyers shopping for an action movie. Guillermo Arriaga’s “The Burning Plain” and Paul Schrader’s “Adam Resurrected” are among the notable entries in the auteur drama category. Those hunting for a class saga might gravitate to the film starring Peter O’Toole “Dean Spanley,” and those seeking a coming-of-age ensemble piece might look to the Alec Baldwin-Cynthia Nixon toplined 1970s film “Lymelife.”

Some of the more commercial documentaries will be represented by such entries as “Every Little Step,” about “A Chorus Line”; the fashionista biopic “Valentino: The Last Emperor”; the kung-fu tale “The Real Shaolin”; and the ‘70s sex-club profile “American Swing.”

Despite Toronto’s growing reputation as a showcase for big fall movies — “Burn After Reading,” “Happy-Go-Lucky,” “The Secret Life of Bees” and “The Duchess” will play there — the festival also can help launch a small title into an indie hit.

Last year, Liberty Media’s relatively new Overture Films found a small movie it liked in “The Visitor” and snapped it up; after a strategic rollout, writer/director Thomas McCarthy’s acclaimed drama has earned nearly $10 million at the North American box office and generated early Oscar buzz.

Reuters/Hollywood Reporter

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