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Toronto Winners and Losers

by Anne Thompson
September 14, 2008 8:11 AM
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Boyle_2So far, the big winner on the fall fest circuit, based on critical, audience and exhib reaction, is Slumdog Millionaire, the pic that Warners let get away.

That makes Fox Searchlight, the distrib that grabbed Slumdog and The Wrestler, another big winner coming out of Toronto. Based on its $6-million budget, The Wrestler looks to be a success, but it will be a tougher sell for Searchlight, which acquired it for under $4 million, than Slumdog, which is a more upbeat crowd-pleaser. Clearly director Darren Aronofsky steered The Wrestler to Searchlight when Lionsgate thought they had landed the picture. That's about messy multi-pronged negotiations.

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Kathryn Bigelow's The Hurt Locker scored a sale to Summit, but it was modest ($1.2 million) because the filmmakers insisted on a wide release to differentiate the film from other Iraq War movies via arresting visuals in TV spots. So part of the cost of acquiring North American rights to the film was the marketing commitment.

The rest of the fest field were small movies that may have to settle for small distribs, if any. "This lack of 'breakouts' continues from the past several festivals," observes Picturehouse prexy Bob Berney. "IFC continues to be able to pick up interesting films for low cost for their VOD system, and Che is a great one for them. By Cannes, there will be more films available and probably some new buyers as well. The good films will find distribution on some level, even if the deals aren't as robust as a few years ago."

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IFC is another winner, buying Che and Everlasting Moments and screening seven pics at the fest. "A space has opened up for them and Magnolia too," says one specialty distrib exec. "They're going to have a lot of films available to them."

One could say the losers were the sales agents who didn't unload their slates by fest's end. It may be time to come up with a new model for how to sell pics at fests, because the old one doesn't seem to be working anymore. Fanning bidding wars doesn't work when two big movies sell at a major fest and so many little companies are waiting to spend as little as possible on what's left. Says one Oscar campaigner: "There's no rush anymore."

[Photos: top, Danny Boyle, director of Slumdog Millionaire; IFC topper Jonathan Sehring and critic Leonard Maltin at the Indie Spirit Awards]

[Originally appeared on Variety.com]

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