The success or failure of a film festival is relative: A programmer will be most thrilled by the number of world premiere gets that went over huge; the organisers of this year's 35th annual TIFF were counting on the smooth transition of the festival to the downtown core and the unveiling of the massive Bell Lightbox theatre complex; publicists will only be happy if everybody showed up on time, fully dressed, and in the mood to talk (Woody Allen, an almost no-show, gave at least one flack I know a minor heart attack); and critics gauge success mainly on how many balanced meals they were able to get into their bodies on six-screening days. (Not true. But close.) For the Toronto festival—a unique hybrid on the circuit of industry marketplace, highbrow tastemaker, critical hub, and local filmgoer favorite—the results are in, and the standard for this year's success is largely a mercenary one: Deals were made.
And how! At the close of the festival on September 19th, 18 films have been picked up with distribution deals, which is triple the number of deals made just last year. It's a development that seems to have taken a number of festival watchers—and even festival organisers—by surprise. “I'm not so worked up about whether they sell the night after their premiere or whether they sell a few weeks later,” festival co-director Cameron Bailey told Indiewire just before the games began. “I'm just hoping the films we have, that are seeking distribution, actually get brought to theatrical audiences because I think there's some great work here.”
As a vicarious player, it's interesting to watch how the confluence of buzz, star power, and the heady festival atmosphere combine to push one film forward ahead of a number of others for consideration. Robert Redford's papery historical drama The Conspirator, for instance, must have played well to the swells at Roadside Attractions and Lionsgate, who saw in its All-American story and turgid execution all the hallmarks of Oscar bait. It's disappointing, by contrast, to see a wonderful, hand-made film like Mike Mills's Beginners, starring Christopher Plummer as a father who comes out late in life and Ewan McGregor as the son who must reckon with those final years after his death, still swinging in the breeze as the festival closes.
More heartening buys include the acquisition of Wendy and Lucy director Kelly Reichardt's Meek's Cutoff, John Cameron Mitchell's Rabbit Hole, Werner Herzog's Caves of Forgotten Dreams, James Gunn's Super and the very buzzy festival favourite Submarine (pictured), the directorial debut of British comedian Richard Ayoade.
That last one was bought by the eagle eyes at The Weinstein Company, who further intrigued festival-watchers by picking up the even more improbable Milla Jovovich/Dwight Yoakam project Dirty Girl to boot. In a strange bit of TIFF synergy, an unauthorised documentary about Harvey Weinstein directed by Canadian (and TIFF board member) Barry Avrich was picked up for distribution last week. The film was not in contention at TIFF and remains a largely mysterious concern, as any endeavour involving the fearsome Harvey W. without his permission must. I have imagined in luxurious detail the close encounters and near misses these two men must have had while negotiating the back end of the festival. If only someone had been filming…