Toronto Film Market Suffers Sundance Backlash This Year

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Buyers were wary, given that a batch of eight-figure Sundance acquisitions had imploded at the summer box office, but the other reason for inactivity was that most of TIFF’s splashy debuts had secured distribution.

Blink and you would have missed it.

As the Toronto International Film Festival wrapped Sunday, just a few films had landed significant deals: the Russell Crowe starrer True History of the Kelly Gang (IFC), the Riz Ahmed vehicle Sound of Metal (Amazon), Dan Friedkin’s Lyrebird (Sony Pictures Classics) and Rose Glass' Saint Maud (A24).

Buyers were wary, given that a batch of eight-figure Sundance acquisitions had imploded at the summer box office, but the other reason for inactivity was that most of TIFF’s splashy debuts, like Knives Out and The Personal History of David Copperfield, already had secured distribution.

In fact, SPC had seven films in the official lineup, including the Cannes darling The Climb, the Isabelle Huppert starrer Frankie and Pedro Almodóvar’s Pain and Glory. “The market felt slow and not very exciting,” says Michael Barker, co-president of SPC with Tom Bernard. “No one was bidding high for movies, which has been our experience at past Torontos. The critics didn’t have a consensus [on the films], and that made it feel like there wasn’t huge enthusiasm.”

Although HBO took worldwide rights to the Hugh Jackman starrer Bad Education in a deal one source pegged at $20 million (with plans to release it in 2020 to qualify for the Emmys), the dark comedy appears to be the outlier. As such, the streaming giants provided the biggest drama.

In 2018, Netflix’s Outlaw King held the opening night spot, which enraged first-night sponsor Bell Media, owner of subscription VOD service Crave. In a sign of Bell’s muscle, TIFF opened this year with the Crave doc Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and The Band (which was bought by Magnolia).

Canadian chain Cineplex, which runs Scotiabank Theatre, banned Netflix and Amazon titles, prompting TIFF to move its films to Bell Lightbox. Despite sluggishness during the fest, the coming days will be pivotal in assessing this year’s market.

“The sellers are taking their time now,” adds Barker, who bought Giuseppe Capotondi’s The Burnt Orange Heresy on Monday. “I think a lot of deals will close in the coming week, but probably nothing significant.”

This story appeared in the Sept. 18 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.