As the global film sector still reels from COVID-19, dealmakers (virtually) descending on Toronto hope the need for content will drive sales.
Back in June — when uncertainty reigned — the Cannes Virtual Film Market offered a reason for optimism, with strong presales for in-development titles hoping to hit theaters in 2021 or 2022. "Cannes was a huge success, and we were selling movies internationally like we haven’t done in years," says CAA’s Roeg Sutherland. "There were a lot of unknowns. We didn’t know what was going to happen. But the world was buying. Buying for the present. Buying for the future."
Fast-forward three months, and the COVID-19 picture is still murky. As such, the Toronto (mostly virtual) market, which kicks off Sept. 10, will test the worldwide appetite for finished films ready for release. The accompanying festival, which will allow only Canadian citizens to attend, is typically packed with big commercial films and awards-season hopefuls. But this year’s pickings look slim. "The whole business is still in stasis, with theaters closed in most of the world and production mostly stopped," says David Garrett of U.K.-based sales and production group Mister Smith, which is not bringing any new titles to TIFF. "There are very few films available, and most buyers have already taken delivery of films they can’t release."
Still, U.S. distributors plan to log in and screen sales titles. "There hasn’t been a market that we haven’t bought at since COVID started, and we don’t expect TIFF to be any different," says Neon CEO Tom Quinn, who bought Spencer, Pablo Larraín’s Princess Diana feature starring Kristen Stewart, in Cannes. And the deep-pocketed streaming platforms — including new kids on the block Disney+, HBO Max and Apple+ — also are buying (Amazon snatched up Regina King’s awards contender One Night in Miami ahead of its Toronto bow).
Furthermore, a smaller-than-usual pool of already-released Oscar hopefuls could buoy the buzzworthy titles on offer, including these on THR’s TIFF Hot List.
DIRECTOR-STAR Halle Berry
BUZZ Berry’s directorial debut, in which she stars as a disgraced MMA fighter trying to regain her place in the cage and the affections of her distant son, could tap into the underdog appeal of Darren Aronofsky’s 2008 TIFF hit The Wrestler.
DIRECTOR Ricky Staub
STARS Caleb McLaughlin, Idris Elba, Jharrel Jerome
BUZZ A father-son drama — with horses. Stranger Things star McLaughlin breaks out as a brooding teen caught between a life of crime and the vibrant urban-cowboy community to which his estranged father (Elba) belongs.
DIRECTOR Roger Michell
STARS Jim Broadbent, Helen Mirren, Fionn Whitehead
BUZZ Michell’s latest has "feel-good, adult-skewing hit" written all over it. Broadbent stars in the true story of a 60-year-old cab driver who stole Goya’s portrait of the Duke of Wellington from the National Gallery in London and sent a ransom note saying he would return it only if the government did more to help the elderly.
DIRECTOR Reinaldo Marcus Green
STARS Mark Wahlberg, Reid Miller, Connie Britton, Gary Sinise
BUZZ The Oscar-winning writers of Brokeback Mountain tell the true story of a father’s walk across the country to raise awareness about the harms of bullying. In a best actor contender role, Wahlberg plays the father of a teen who suffers brutal homophobic taunting.
DIRECTOR Nathan Grossman
STAR Greta Thunberg
BUZZ A strong awards contender, this Hulu co-produced doc follows teenage environmental advocate Thunberg, whose activism captured the world’s attention in 2019 and made her Time magazine’s Person of the Year.
DIRECTOR J Blakeson
STARS Rosamund Pike, Peter Dinklage, Eiza González, Dianne Wiest
BUZZ Dubbed "a droll thriller" by TIFF programmers, the film centers on a legal conservator (Pike) who defrauds elderly clients and runs afoul of a gangster (Dinklage). Gone Girl’s Pike stars as the ice-cool and unscrupulous profiteer.
DIRECTOR Ed Zwick
STARS Richard Gere, Diane Keaton, Blake Lively, Lin-Manuel Miranda
BUZZ Based on the star power and premise, this romantic comedy aims to please both Hollywood insiders and a broader audience. In their first teaming since 1977’s Looking for Mr. Goodbar, Gere and Keaton portray a long-married filmmaker couple whose fabled love story is getting the cinematic treatment, with Blake Lively and Lin-Manuel Miranda playing their younger selves.
DIRECTOR Julia von Heinz
STARS Mala Emde, Noah Saavedra
BUZZ German-language dramas can be a hard sell, but the ripped-from-the-headlines feel of helmer/co-writer von Heinz’s story, about a young woman who joins Antifa — the activist group demonized by Donald Trump in his reelection bid — could make it a winner for art house buyers.
DIRECTOR Kornél Mundruczó
STARS Vanessa Kirby, Shia LaBeouf, Ellen Burstyn
BUZZ From Hungarian director Mundruczó (White God), this intense drama stars LaBeouf and The Crown’s Kirby as a couple reeling — in very different ways — from the death of an infant. Martin Scorsese recently came on as an executive producer of the film, which is taking its North American bow after a Venice world premiere.
This story first appeared in the Sept. 2 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.