'Dead' sale reanimates Toronto market

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TORONTO -- After a modest day, the relatively dead Toronto market rose to life late Tuesday as North American rights, including Mexico, for "George A. Romero's Diary of the Dead" went to the Weinstein Co. for $2 million-$2.5 million.

Earlier in the day, North American rights for Tom McCarthy's "The Visitor" went to Overture Films, and Alan Ball's "Nothing Is Private" went to Warner Independent Pictures and Netflix's Red Envelope Entertainment for more than $1 million each.

And Sidney Kimmel Entertainment completed a three-picture distribution deal with Canada's Equinoxe Films that encompassed the warmly received Toronto premiere "Lars and the Real Girl," starring Ryan Gosling.

WIP and REE jointly acquired Ball's adaptation of Alicia Erian's novel "Towelhead," the most controversial film of the fest, for $1 million-$1.5 million. WIP, which also took an Eastern European territory, is eyeing a mid-2008 domestic release.

The story of a 13-year-old Arab-American girl's adolescent awakening, "Nothing" stars Aaron Eckhart, Toni Collette, Maria Bello and newcomer Summer Bishil and also features graphic scenes involving menstruation, rape, racist language and an all too May-December romance. It received many good reviews, but provoked equally passionate positive and negative reactions from buyers and audiences, making it a brave choice for its distributors.

"Nothing" already has received an R rating, but according to a source close to the deal, will be cut solely for length from its current 134-minute running time.

"Alan's film is provocative, warm-hearted and is sure to create a lot of discussion as his past work on 'American Beauty' and 'Six Feet Under' has," WIP head Polly Cohen said.

In one of the fest's most lingering and anticipated sales, new indie distributor Overture picked up all North American rights to writer-director Thomas McCarthy's quiet character portrait and immigration drama "The Visitor" early Tuesday morning for more than $1 million, plus boxoffice and ancillary bonuses for the filmmakers. The Groundswell Prods./Participant Prods. feature is the first film financed, produced and sold under Michael London's Groundswell banner.

Early word was that the sale ran late Monday because new buyers entered the picture after positive reviews. But a production source claimed Tuesday morning that another reason was to work out a large marketing/distribution commitment and hefty share of theatrical and home video for Groundswell and Participant.

"It puts a human face on the issue of immigration and illuminates it in a really beautiful and compelling way," said Participant president Ricky Strauss, who had already been talking to Overture about doing projects and said Overture was the most aggressive and passionate suitor circling the film. An Oscar-qualifying run is one option under consideration.

The latest sequel to Romero's 1968 horror classic "Night of the Living Dead" closed Tuesday night after several offers were considered, including some for video-only distribution. The Weinstein Co. deal includes a theatrical commitment.Several sales were up in the air late Tuesday: Stuart Townsend's "Battle in Seattle" -- both First Look Studios and ThinkFilm are said to be interested -- could possibly close a deal today. Bernie Goldmann and Melisa Wallack's "Bill," from stalwart GreeneStreet Films, also is in play.

Genre-friendly distributors such as the Weinstein Co. and Magnolia, sporting its new Magnet label, are eyeing Dario Argento's "Mother of Tears." The all-star documentary "Trumbo" could go by Wednesday, and Stuart Gordon's horror film "Stuck" has emerged as a dark horse candidate.

Meanwhile, Julie Taymor's "Across the Universe" had its gala presentation Monday night, and despite the reported battles the production encountered in the editing suites, the movie surprised many. "If you like the Beatles, you'll like it," said one exec, while acknowledging that the movie's commercial prospects could go either way.

Paul Haggis' "In the Valley of Elah" also had a gala presentation Monday night, and Focus Features threw a party for "Atonement."

Picturehouse celebrated the David Schwimmer-directed "Run, Fat Boy, Run" with an intimate dinner and a funny postscreening Q&A. The Simon Pegg comedy was popular with audiences, who have had their fill of movies about the Iraq War, sex crimes and psycho killers. "Fat Boy" opens in 800-plus theaters in October.

Monday night also provided a last hurrah for multiple parties in one evening because the Hollywood glitterati has started leaving town on a massive scale. With an In Style party and an event at Casa Loma for "King of California" scheduled for Tuesday night, Toronto should seem like a relative ghost town by today. The beginning of Rosh Hashanah tonight is another factor that have led a number of festival-goers to head home.

Still, some of those left behind will still be scouting for talent. "We look for the diamonds in the rough," one agent said.

"Private" was produced by Ted Hope, Steven Rales and Ball, with Anne Carey, Scott Rudin and Peggy Rajsk as exec producers. UTA's Rich Klubeck and Andrew Cannava repped sales for the filmmakers. WIP's Cohen, Jun Oh and Paul Federbush negotiated for their company.

"Visitor" was produced by Mary Jane Skalski and London and executive produced by Omar Amanat, Jeff Skoll, Strauss and Chris Salvaterra. Andrew Hurwitz negotiated the deal on behalf of the filmmakers.

"Dead," an Artfire Films/Romero-Grunwald Prods. film, was written and directed by Romero; produced by Peter Grunwald, Art Spigel, Sam Englebardt and Ara Katz; and executive produced by Dan Fireman, John Harrison and Steve Barnett. Cinetic Media repped the filmmakers in the sale. The Weinstein Co.'s Barry Gordon and Michael Podell repped the sale for the distributor.
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