TIFF ’13: Fewer docs for sale as deals done earlier

Midway, The Dog and Beyond the Edge are among the hot doc titles being circled by buyers at this year's TIFF, according to docs programmer Thom Powers (pictured), although expect less acquisitions than last year as many films are premiering with deals already done.
September 6, 2013

Midway, The Dog and Beyond the Edge are among the hot doc titles being circled by buyers at this year’s Toronto festival, according to TIFF’s docs programmer Thom Powers, although expect less acquisitions than last year as many films are premiering with deals already done.

Last year saw a considerable number of deals taking place at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF).

Among a blizzard of activity, Roadside Attractions secured Stories We Tell, Tribeca Film picked up How to Make Money Selling Drugs, Magnolia Pictures acquired No Place on Earth, Mongrel Media and HBO acquired Love, Marilyn, First Run Features bought The End of Time, The Cinema Guild snagged Leviathan, and HBO took Casting By.

During this year’s festival, however, expect less activity, as more doc titles are arriving at TIFF with distribution deals already in place.

“This year we’re seeing a lot more films that have been picked up in a major way before the festival,” Thom Powers (pictured above), who programs TIFF’s Docs and Mavericks sections, tells realscreen. “Films like Tim’s Vermeer, picked up by Sony Pictures Classics, and The Unknown Known, which was announced during last year’s TIFF as an acquisition by RADiUS-TWC.”

In addition to those deals, other pre-TIFF agreements have seen HBO and Dogwoof acquiring Dangerous Acts (formerly known as Unstable Elements), Sundance Selects and HanWay Select picking up Finding Vivian Maier, eOne acquiring Watermark, Sony Pictures Classic backing The Armstrong Lie, The Weinstein Company acquiring Salinger, The Exchange snagging Made in America, and a number of overseas buyers taking Faith Connections.

Nevertheless, there are still a number of commercially viable non-fiction films premiering without deals in place, including environmental doc Midway and 3D mountain climbing film Beyond the Edge.

“This year some of the titles to watch will include Supermensch, the Mike Myers-directed film that’s playing as a gala; definitely Midway, which is going to be represented by WME; and The Dog, which is going to be represented by Submarine,” says Powers.

“I also think Beyond the Edge, the 3D Mount Everest film, will attract a significant amount of buyers; and Burt’s Buzz, which is a film that – due to the familiarity of its subject – has a chance to go far. There are some others, but those to me are the commercial stand-outs.”

Powers’ tips come as The Act of Killing and Stories We Tell – which both had premieres at TIFF in 2012 – have gone on to become two of this year’s most acclaimed and successful documentaries, highlighting the power the Toronto festival can have in launching a non-fiction feature.

“People ask me if films turn out the way I expect, or how much I can foresee what’s going to happen to a film,” offers Powers. “In the case of The Act of Killing, I felt that it would be received strongly by critics, but I would not have anticipated that it would have ended up having one of the strongest opening weekends – on a per-theater average – of any documentary this year, for its U.S. release.

“I think both The Act of Killing and Stories We Tell are going to be major titles under discussion when we enter awards season this fall. Two out of the last three Oscar winners [for best documentary feature] have played at TIFF, and maybe this year we’ll get a third.”

TIFF kicked off yesterday (September 5) and runs until September 15. Check out trailers for Burt’s Buzz, Beyond the Edge, Midway and The Dog below:

About The Author
Barry Walsh is editor and content director for realscreen, and has served as editor of the publication since 2009. With a career in entertainment media that spans two decades, prior to realscreen, he held the associate editor post for now defunct sister publication Boards, which focused on the advertising and commercial production industries. Before Boards, he served as editor of Canadian Music Network, a weekly music industry trade, and as music editor for As content director, he also oversees the development of content for the brand's market-leading events, the Realscreen Summit and Realscreen West, as well as new content initiatives.