Can Netflix and Amazon Rescue a Weak TIFF Market?

London Fields - H 2015
Courtesy of Toronto International Film Festival

"I’ve never seen it so quiet," said one distributor, as the two are said to mull the Amber Heard starrer 'London Fields,' Michael Moore's 'Where to Invade Next' and the controversial Aretha Franklin doc 'Amazing Grace.'

With Toronto dealmaking off to a slow start, sellers are looking for a digital savior. Amazon and Netflix are said to be in the mix on a number of the most promising acquisition titles, from Michael Moore’s Where to Invade Next to the controversial Aretha Franklin documentary Amazing Grace. Amazon also is circling the Amber Heard-starrer London Fields. That’s a dramatic departure from last year’s TIFF incarnation, when traditional players reigned, with Paramount swooping in early to buy worldwide rights to Chris Rock’s Top Five.

But with the festival entering its fifth day and interest remaining tepid for many of the finished films on display, Netflix and Amazon are seen as the most likely players to get the ball rolling. A source says Moore already has rejected a Netflix offer and is negotiating a deal with a theatrical distributor. Another source says Netflix was still in play as of press time.

"[Where to Invade Next] will be a difficult sell beyond the core Michael Moore fans, so it makes sense that Netflix would buy it," said Rudiger Boss, head of acquisitions at German broadcasting group ProSiebenSat.1. "I just hope they overpay again and waste more money."

Given the pre-festival hype surrounding the film, Where to Invade has become a tone-setter. But the fact that there’s no deal yet for Moore's film has led to the perception that this is, in fact, a weak market.

One indie distributor said dealmaking frenzies of past years failed to justify themselves at the box office, leading many to question how the current crop of acquisition titles can ever secure North American deals that prove profitable. Last year, Toronto produced splashy sales like Noah Baumbach’s While We’re Young, which sold to A24 for $4 million but earned just $7.5 million during its theatrical run.

"I’ve never seen it so quiet. There’s nothing to buy," said another indie distributor. "It’s not just Toronto. Cannes was quiet too."

That leaves Netflix, which has Beasts of No Nation playing the fest, and Amazon as Toronto’s sleeping giants. "It is the future, no doubt, but at the moment it is unbalanced because the U.S. market has developed in a way that is completely different than the rest of the world," says Lisa Wilson, co-founder and partner of sales and financing company The Solution.

That said, distributors expect deals to emerge this week or in the weeks leading to AFM, after the price for acquisition titles become more realistic.

Etan Vlessing and Rebecca Ford contributed to this report.