EXCLUSIVE: In a bid to drive acquisitions, Toronto top brass are understood to be collaborating with select sales agents to allow festival staff and volunteers to attend four early-stage private buyers screenings.

Screendaily has learned the move is being orchestrated to replicate the buoyant atmosphere of public screenings in an effort to stir up sales.

The timing of the move is dictated by a growing recognition that most decision-makers at distribution companies will have left town by the time these films officially premiere in the second week, despite Toronto’s efforts to spread its riches across the duration of the festival.

That strategy was informed in part by the festival’s new and well documented policy of holding back until the second week premieres of anticipated films that will receive their actual world premiere in Telluride.

Two cases in point are North American premieres of The Weinstein Company’s Benedict Cumberbatch starrer The Imitation Game and Fox Searchlight’s Wild with Reese Witherspoon.

Both are expected to premiere first in the Rockies before travelling north of the border saddled with awards kudos — or at least that is the hope of their backers. The first chance anybody will get to see them in Toronto in either P+I (press and industry) screening or premiere form will be after the first weekend on Monday September 8.

However the reality of Toronto’s packed public and industry screening schedule is that buyers will be able to see most if not all must-see acquisition titles in the first five days, hence the expected departure of many movers and shakers in the acquisitions world by mid-week.

Screendaily understands three of the four private screenings are world premieres and one is an international premiere of a Cannes selection. Furthermore, none of the quartet will contravene Toronto’s new premieres policy, which means none will have played at Telluride.

Sales agents declined to identify the four titles and Toronto top brass were unavailable for comment for this story. A single private buyers screening was made accessible to staff and volunteers in each of the past two years.

According to sources a private screening of Edward Zwick’s chess drama Pawn Sacrifice starring Tobey Maguire and Liev Shreiber is set for Friday September 5, ahead of the September 11 world premiere gala. A private screening of Chris Evan’s feature directorial debut Before We Go takes place earlier on the same day before the September 12 premiere.

‘Typically congested’ Toronto schedule

A typically congested first five days means buyers will scramble to view whatever must-sees they can in the first weekend. The consensus at this admittedly sight-unseen stage is a handful of potentially broad commercial breakouts are balanced by a host of enticing dramatic prospects.

Buyer priorities would appear to include the Scott Rudin duo of While We’re Young directed by Noah Baumbach and starring Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts and Chris Rock’s comedy Top Five – both of which UTA Independent Film Group represents for the US and FilmNation for international. Midnight Madness entry Big Game stars Samuel Jackson as the US President stranded in the woods (WME Global/Altitude Films Sales) while Kristen Wiig takes the lead as a complicated lotto winner in Welcome To Me (UTA/WME Global; Cargo Entertainment).

Anticipation surrounds the acerbic Jennifer Anniston drama Cake (WME/CAA; Conquistador Entertainment); Dustin Hoffman in Boychoir (CAA; Embankment Films); Adam Sandler fantasy comedy The Cobbler (WME/Gersh; Voltage), Richard Gere homeless drama Time Out Of Mind (Paradigm/WME/ICM Partners; QED International) and John Travolta crime thriller The Forger (WME/ICM Partners; The Solution).

P+I or public screening highlights for Thursday September 4 are The Dead Lands (XYZ Films) and Sunshine Superman (Submarine). Al Pacino starrer The Humbling (ICM Partners; Nu Image) arrives from Venice and is a North American premiere.

Friday September 5 brings first-looks in one form or other (P+I, world premiere or private screening) for: Pawn Sacrifice (WME/CAA; Lionsgate International); Madame Bovary (WME Global); Boychoir (CAA; Embankment Films); Before We Go (CAA/WME Global); October Gale (Gersh; Myriad Pictures); Welcome To Me (UTA/WME); Laurent Cantet’s Return To Ithaca (Funny Balloons); light-hearted drama Ruth & Alex with Morgan Freeman and Diane Keaton (CAA/WME; Myriad); and Australian sex comedy The Little Death (UTA/Level K).

Expected highlights for Saturday September 6 are: Michael Douglas thriller The Reach (WME; Good Universe); Chris Rock’s comedy Top Five (UTA; FilmNation); Mike Binder’s return with Kevin Costner starrer Black And White (Cassian Elwes; IM Global); Baumbach’s While We’re Young (UTA; FilmNation); Paul Bettany’s directorial debut Shelter starring Jennifer Connelly and Anthony Mackie (UTA; Voltage); Lone Scherfig’s The Riot Club (HanWay Films); Simon Pegg hitman dark comedy Kill Me Three Times (WME; Cargo Entertainment); and Michael Winterbottom’s thriller The Face Of An Angel starring Kate Beckinsale and Daniel Brühl (WestEnd).

A daunting Saturday roster continues with: Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet (CAA; Wild Bunch); Susanne Bier’s A Second Chance (TrustNordisk); Richard LaGravenese’s Broadway adaptation The Last Five Years starring Anna Kendrick (CAA; The Exchange); Nick Broomfield’s serial killer doc Tales Of The Grim Sleeper (Submarine); François Ozon’s The New Girlfriend (Films Distribution); and Roger Waters The Wall (Cinetic; Mister Smith Entertainment).

The North American premiere of Manglehorn starring Al Pacino will take place on Saturday. CAA and Cinetic co-represent US rights and WestEnd handles international sales.

Sunday September 7 brings first-looks for: The Cobbler (WME/Gersh; Voltage); Liv Ullman’s Miss Julie (CAA; Wild Bunch); Time Out Of Mind (Paradigm/WME/ICM Partners; QED International); and Bill Pohlad’s biopic of troubled Beach Boys member Brian Wilson Love & Mercy (CAA; Lionsgate International).

The roster on Monday September 8 includes: John Travolta in crime thriller The Forger (WME/ICM Partners; The Solution); Midnight Madness entry The Editor (XYZ Films; Park Entertainment); American Heist with Adrien Brody (Paradigm; Voltage); Julianne Moore in Still Alice (CAA; Memento); Cake (WME/CAA; Conquistador Entertainment); Adult Beginners (WME); and The Keeping Room (WME; Sierra/Affinity).

Zombie tale Maggie starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and Abigail Breslin screens as a P+I on Tuesday (September 9) and CAA represents US rights with Lotus on board as international sales agent. That same day Andrew Niccol’s drone thriller Good Kill with Ethan Hawke premieres. CAA is the US agent and Voltage handles international. There is a P+I screening of Alan Rickman’s directorial debut A Little Chaos on September 10 before the closing night gala premiere three days later. CAA is the US representative and Lionsgate International handles sales outside the US.

Distribution titles set to unload in first weekend

At the last count, Toronto was set to screen 285 features. Besides the aforementioned titles, the stream of first-weekend world premieres of films with distributors attached includes: Warner Bros’ festival opener The Judge with Robert Downey Jr and Robert Duvall; Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones in Focus Features’ The Theory Of Everything; Bill Murray in The Weinstein Company’s St. Vincent; Open Road’s Nightcrawler starring Jake Gyllenhaal; Paramount’s Men, Women & Children from Jason Reitman; and Fox Searchlight’s The Drop with Tom Hardy and the late James Gandolfini.

Opening weekend premieres include A24’s Tusk from Kevin Smith; Sony’s The Equalizer starring Denzel Washington; Peter Strickland’s Berbarian Sound Studio follow-up The Duke Of Burgundy at IFC Films; and the Warner Bros duo of The Good Lie starring Witherspoon and ensemble dark comedy This Is Where I Leave You.