The world’s top buyers and sellers descended onto Toronto last week for an annual event which is looking increasingly like a major film market as well as a festival.
The patterns of the independent film markets are subtly changing. This week at Toronto, there were more off-festival screenings, presentations and deals being closed than ever before, as the world’s leading buyers assembled in Canada to see new product in the festival and meet the sellers.
It’s too expensive for cost-conscious distributors to run around the world’s festival circuit when TIFF offers an effective one-stop shop for a wide variety of product – from the most experimental arthouse films to A-list star vehicles like The Killer Elite or Machine Gun Preacher. In fact, while you may question why those broad commercial films need a festival platform at all, their inclusion makes more sense if you look at TIFF like a market, or indeed a supermarket, for buyers.
Venice is a much smaller, highly curated affair and, while it offers sneak peaks at eagerly awaited titles like Shame or Wuthering Heights, key deals for those films are usually closed a week later in Toronto. US buyers in particular tend to avoid Venice and wait for Toronto, and indeed Fox Searchlight and Oscilloscope stepped up for those two films respectively at TIFF.
Coincidentally, as TIFF got underway this year, the organizers of the American Film Market confirmed that they were looking to move the AFM away from the beachfront in Santa Monica to downtown LA in 2013. The change is designed to reduce costs for exhibitors, while offering cheaper hotel costs for all participants.
While delegates would no doubt miss being next to the ocean, the move by AFM to reduce costs can only be a positive one in a climate where every independent company is looking to minimize cost. Many of the video-driven companies which peddled their low-budget wares at the Loews Hotel have been driven out of business through lack of demand and a move of AFM venue coincides with the continued contraction in the independent business and a shift from volume to quality.
Of course the number of international sales agents taken seriously by talent, banks or buyers is continuing to drop, perhaps suggesting that a less formal market environment like TIFF is assuming more significance in the autumn schedule than the AFM, especially since buyers can see films with audiences at Toronto to get an instant gauge on their playability. This year more than in previous years, many of the big buyer titles – like 360, Salmon Fishing In The Yemen or Your Sister’s Sister - had their public screening before their press & industry screening, effectively forcing the buyers to see them with an audience.
With such a wealth of buyers in attendance, it is no surprise that sellers were screening movies off-piste, as it were: Wild Bunch showed its version of The War Of The Buttons, Parlay screened Vamps, FilmNation showed footage and announced a new title for Zhang Yimou’s Nanking epic Flowers Of War.
Now that TIFF is ensconsed in two or three city blocks in the downtown area of the city, its efficiency as an industry event is increasing. For AFM, the challenge is to remain a vital magnet for product and buyers six weeks later.