Director Stephen Chbosky called the opening night of the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival – which kicked off with Chbosky’s Dear Evan Hansen September 9 – “Opening Night for Cinema in North America”.
As TIFF wraps up its first weekend, Toronto’s film and festival market seemed more low-key than festive. Covid’s strict travel restrictions mean few industry executives have made the trip north, preferring the safety of Zoom meetings and Toronto’s online marketplace.
“We have films showing at the (Toronto) festival, but it looks like most of the industry isn’t participating this year. So I feel like this is probably a festival we can virtually attend this year, ”IFC Films President Arianna Bocco told THR after doing some field business in Telluride.
Those who braved the trip faced major delays – four hours or more – from New York and Los Angeles. TIFF red carpets and gala premieres have been muted business. The limited-capacity screenings put a damper on the generally loud Toronto audience and with few big stars in attendance – unlike the VIP-populated Venice Film Festival last week – there were no crowds of screaming fans turning up. throng the streets of Toronto around major locations. like Roy Thompson Hall and Bell Lightbox on King Street.
Film buyers who skip the flight to Toronto are also following TIFF for the second year in a row, drastically reducing its film lineup to around 100 titles – a far cry from the 280-300 films before the pandemic and which had film buyers complaining of not being able to take full advantage of it. wide array of film offerings in Toronto, especially during the busy first weekend front-end.
Toronto’s pandemic-hit market this year also reshaped a cinematic bazaar where in previous years major shoppers had taken seats at Roy Thomson Hall and the Elgin and Princess of Wales theaters on Saturday night, particularly to determine whether early TIFF’s weekend acquisition titles were worth it until Sunday morning, and where the risk was overpaying, or if they could keep their powder dry and pay less for the titles towards the end of the festival or at the AFM.
This year’s darker vibe suited the atmosphere on Saturday, which marked the 20th anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks. The 2001 Toronto Film Festival was halfway through Tuesday morning, September 11, when news of the World Trade Center attacks first broke. The planes were grounded for days, and TIFF organizers struggled to decide whether to cancel or end the festival (they decided to end).
But while Toronto 2021 may lack the buzz and glamor of pre-COVID festivals, the pure market side of the company continues to turn virtually for the second year in a row. “The good / bad news is that we are getting very experienced at these virtual festivals”, Kent Sanderson, president of acquisitions and auxiliary distribution at independent distributor Bleecker Street, insists.
Toronto has never been a major market for pre-sales – most packages arrive earlier, in Berlin or Cannes, or later for the American Film Market – and there have been a good number of mid-sized projects. offered to TIFF buyers this year. FilmNation, CAA Media Finance and WME launched sales on We all die young, a drama set in the world of rap starring Justice Smith, Idris Elba and Taylour Paige, a screenplay by Hamilton star Daveed Diggs and with Jake Schreier (Robot & Frank, Paper cities) on board to lead. Endeavor Content unveiled its dark drama Sniff starring Morgan Freeman, Danny DeVito, Al Pacino and Helen Mirren, and Embankment has sparked interest in its upcoming biopic Joika, about elite American ballet dancer Joy Womack, after announcing Diane Kruger had signed on to perform alongside Never Rarely Sometimes Always actor Talia Ryder. Embankment, which closed several presales on Joika, including for Germany, Italy, Australia and Spain, before Toronto, co-directs the US rights to the film with UTA Independent Film Group.
Sales managers, whether in the field or zooming in from home offices around the world, said distributors are always hungry for movies. “There’s always this huge demand for content,” said Janina Vilsmaier, sales manager at Protagonist Pictures, which shows their Spanish-language comedy (sold out). Official competition, with Penelope Cruz and Antonio Banderas, in Toronto. “We have been doing good business in all film markets since the start of the pandemic. “
“The big difference in Toronto this year is that there aren’t as many finished films available for acquisition. The slowdown in production that we have seen due to COVID is still having an impact with fewer projects available for acquisition, ”notes JJ Caruth of The Avenue, the national distribution arm of Highland Film Group. “But I think we’re already starting to see that change and we should have a solid list of finished films from Sundance next year.”
Cinema executives also noted that after attending Cannes and Venice in quick succession, it seemed fair to them to use zoom calls for the informal Toronto film market this year to catch up with producers and others. types of industry before seriously returning to the conclusion of agreements at the AFM.
Meanwhile, Berry Meyerowitz, co-chairman of Quiver Distribution, said the continued demand for content to fuel expanding streaming platforms around the world, not to mention unprecedented disruption in the industry, has caused its independent group is strongly launching into production while it diversifies beyond distribution. “I would never have thought three or four years ago that we would be in film production and financing, but this is the only way to get our own schedule under control and not be on the go. the market offers us. ” he said.
The industry is also betting that theaters will stay open until the fall and that moviegoers will return eventually. The spectacular performance for Disney / Marvel’s Shang-Chi and the legend of the ten rings, which followed a record-breaking $ 94.4 million 4-day Labor Day arc with a second weekend estimated at $ 31.8 million, raised hopes for a theatrical revival.
For the independent industry, however, the performance of films like that of Paul Schrader The card counter, which premiered in Venice and Focus Features rolls out in the US this weekend, could be more indicative. The film is set to make around $ 1.05 million from 580 locations.
So far, however, the arthouse and specialty audiences have not come back in full force.
“People are still on their toes, uncertain, especially the older audience” which is the target group for most arthouse films, notes Fernando Sulchin, producer on Sean Penn’s Flag day, which MGM opened to lackluster business on August 20. The numbers seem to confirm it. While the US summer box office is roughly 60% of that of 2019, art house ticket sales are closer to 30-35% of their pre-pandemic levels.
The big test for cinema comes this fall with the release of major titles from Legendary and Warner Bros. ‘ science fiction epic Dune, at Neon’s Lady Di biopic Spencer with Kristen Stewart, Will Smith-starrer of WB king richard and Soprano prequel The Many Saints of Newark, to the star of Wes Anderson The French dispatch.
There is certainly no shortage of products. Former Searchlight Pictures president Steve Gilula in a TIFF Visionaries talk earlier this week noted that Netflix alone plans to make “around 42 movies before the end of the year.” But, Gilula warned, the “fire of content” has made it a “volatile time for independent filmmakers.”
The small successes of the festivals of the past – he underlined Room (2015) and Moonlight (2016), two TIFF titles “with unknown directors and actors” that won awards and cross-commercial success – “might not be recognized” in the new world of streaming.
“The ability of these little films to be truly recognized has become much more difficult,” said Gilula. “Which means what [TIFF] in fact, celebrating unknown films and filmmakers has become more important than ever. “
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