Buyers starting slow at Toronto

Early screeners including 'Gray' get mixed reactions

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TORONTO -- Nearly two days of screenings of available titles has brought a typical Toronto pace -- a very slow start to the market.

The festival has lost some of its robustness as a market for U.S. rights in the past few years and this year's fest has thus far reinforced the trend. Don Roos' family drama "Love & Other Impossible Pursuits" and the Jordan Scott thriller "Cracks" elicited mixed reactions from U.S. buyers as they played over the weekend, as did Oliver Parker's "Dorian Gray" update.

All three pics come with impressive pedigrees - Natalie Portman stars in "Pursuits, Ridley and Tony Scott produced the "Cracks" and emerging star Ben Barnes toplines "Gray." But in a number of cases, particularly with the heavily dramatic pics ("Pursuits" deals with a family coping with the loss of a child), buyers are going slower, choosing not to rush into buying a film that could face marketing challenges.

Still, optimism remained for a number of genre-oriented titles, including George Romero's zombie tale "Survival of the Dead," set to screen Saturday night in a coveted Midnight Madness slot, as well as the Michael Caine assassin thriller "Harry Brown," which debuted early Saturday evening at a packed Elgin theater.

Many of the higher-profile titles - including Bill Murray-toplined "Get Low," Derrick Borte's "The Joneses," Todd Solondz's "Like During Wartime" and perhaps most notably Tom Ford's "A Single Man"-- have yet to screen.

Several docs attracting attention, particularly the war film "How to Fold a Flag" have also not yet debuted.

Acquisitions at Toronto are historically slow the first weekend, as studio fare tends to occupy attention and primetime slots. Last year, the first buy of the festival didn't come until the wee hours of Monday morning, when Fox Searchlight picked up "The Wrestler" for approximately $4 million.

Still, some buyers read the muted reactions as a sign of the times: buyers from IFC, Sony Pictures Classics and Magnolia, as well as several larger companies, are expecting to wait a little longer and pay a little less than in previous years.

Said one seller, "The offers will come. I'm just hoping they start to happen soon."