Inside Toronto's Slow Market: "There's Not Much Action So Far"

Jackie -Still 1 -H 2016
Courtesy of Ste?phanie Branchu/ Venice Film Festival

Critically lauded titles such as Natalie Portman's' 'Jackie' are drawing strong interest, but cautious buyers are reluctant to go all in. Says one insider: "There’s less of a sense of urgency this year."

A downbeat Toronto market finally showed signs of life on Saturday when Bleecker Street and Participant Media teamed for Andy Serkis’ Breathe, a real-life polio drama starring Andrew Garfield.

The sale marked the first major on-the-ground pact at the festival, which hasn’t been a seller’s dream so far. The Jacqueline Kennedy drama Jackie, starring Natalie Portman as the former first lady, debuted in Venice to strong reviews and has generated interest from such players as Netflix, Amazon and Fox Searchlight. The film, directed by Pablo Larrain and written by NBC’s Today show producer Noah Oppenheim, makes its Toronto debut on Sunday.

A smaller play, Message From the King, Belgian genre director Fabrice Du Welz’s noir revenge thriller starring Chadwick Boseman, also has drawn interest from the likes of Open Road and Miramax. WME Global is handling that sale. Anne Hathaway’s monster mashup Colossal and the Rosamund Pike-David Oyelowo romance A United Kingdom are expected to fetch U.S. deals by the end of the festival, though reviews were mixed. Bryan Cranston’s Telluride premiere Wakefield still is looking for a North American distributor as well.

“There’s not much action so far, and there’s less of a sense of urgency this year,” says Sony Pictures Classics co-president Tom Bernard. “A lot of people don’t want to lay the big gun on the table and then get slaughtered by critics.”

Bernard notes the critical reception to market titles has been “particularly tough” at this year’s TIFF. “There will still be a lot of buys, but people will wait to see how things sort out with the reaction first,” he says.

As in Cannes, the focus has been on prebuys of in-progress projects. Two monster prebuys before the festival drew smiles from sales agents: Focus Features plunked down $35 million for Paul Thomas Anderson’s next film, starring Daniel Day-Lewis in a 1950s-set fashion pic, and Lionsgate paid $20 million-plus for Good Universe’s Kin, a James Franco-Jack Reynor thriller financed by No Trace Camping. Other packages on the verge of deals are the Johnny Depp vehicle Labyrinth (Good Universe, UTA) and Rebel in the Rye (CAA).

Action on the documentary front could be heating up as well. Netflix already bought worldwide rights to Jonathan Demme’s performance film Justin Timberlake + The Tennessee Kids, and other deals are said to be in the works.

“The docs we see at each market are only increasing in quality, with the current TIFF as no exception,” says FilmRise CEO Danny Fisher, who bought Janis: Little Girl Blue out of TIFF in 2015. “We are seeing Amazon and Netflix already making acquisitions here. Prices for high-quality documentaries continue to climb.”