The Toronto International Film Festival, an impressive deal-driven bazaar in recent years, is feeling the cold wind of the indie film downturn. The global financial meltdown has produced a record number of indie films with A-list talent, financed in better times, seeking North American distribution in Toronto.
‘There are a lot of films that are becoming available now because of the capital available a year and a half ago, and those films are being delivered now, and the festival is selecting the more commercial among them so the distributors will be attracted,’ says Hal Sadoff, head of the indie film division at the Los Angeles-based agency ICM.
There’s nothing new in wary buyers waiting for film reviews and audience reactions before deciding whether to pick up titles. What’s new is that filmmakers in Toronto will learn over the next 10 days whether their titles are good enough to rise to theatrical distribution in hard times.
‘Even with a small release, you have to be very sure about the deal, about the economics, and do you really feel you can find an audience. There’s not a lot of room for error,’ former Picturehouse chief Bob Berney, now head of new distribution outfit Apparition, says of the buyer’s market in Toronto this year.
TIFF comes as the indie film industry faces a double whammy: a glut of film product arriving on the market as distributors struggle, shrink or close their doors during the industry downturn.
Doug Mankoff of Echo Lake Productions, whose film coproduction credits include Deepa Mehta’s Water, says fewer U.S. distribution deals means foreign buyers will need to take on more risk when acquiring titles in Toronto.
‘The foreign buyers realize that quick U.S. distribution deals are happening much more seldom than before. So if they want an advantage, they need to jump on films that might take a little longer to develop a U.S. deal, and that they have to take some sort of a chance,’ Mankoff says.
All of which suggests films without mainstream appeal can expect acquisition prices and platforms far less ambitious than what might have been secured in better times.
‘It’s a great festival, but the market is very bad. So I’m not sure how Toronto will translate into business. But it’s the best shot I have,’ says Michele Halberstadt, head of French distributor ARP Selection.