Though Telluride was canceled, and Venice, TIFF, and NYFF have set slimmer and/or virtual offerings this year, acquisitions activity out of the fall’s biggest festivals is off to a productive start.
The earliest deals were huge, with streamers snapping up worldwide rights for two Black Oscar-winning actresses’ directorial debuts. Netflix is reportedly close to closing a near-$20-million deal for Halle Berry’s MMA drama “Bruised,” ahead of its online and drive-in TIFF premiere as a “work in progress” Saturday. Amazon, meanwhile, made the first eight-figure deal of the season when it bought Regina King’s “One Night in Miami” more than a month ahead of its Venice premiere.
It’s unlikely festival acquisitions will get much more headline-grabbing. Amid so much uncertainty and a TIFF lineup just one-fifth the size of last year’s, sales activity during the pandemic has been spread out over the last six months, with still-announced deals and un-produced projects waiting in the wings.
“Even though most films are exhibited virtually right now, being at a festival is still a huge badge of honor. It helps brand a movie, gives it laurels. That said, for producers and financiers seeking distribution, the process is not as reliant on festivals as it once was,” UTA independent film group sales agent Mikey Schwartz-Wright told IndieWire at the beginning of the month.
Buyers and agents are expecting this year’s fall festival sales environment as a “wait-and-see” market, one where streamers are likely to set the agenda. But Netflix, Amazon, and Apple’s appetite for commercial fare has increased during the pandemic, and with few star-driven English-language titles of the “Brusied” ilk available in the festivals’ smaller lineups, acquisitions of smaller films and international titles are set to define the season.
Expect more activity like Neon’s early September pickup of Philippe Lacôte’s “Night of the Kings,” which premiered at the Venice Horizons sidebar and will screen at TIFF and NYFF. But the jury’s still out on whether streamers’ interest will expand to include the types of films usually reserved for theatrical distributors.
Here’s everything that’s been picked up, with more to unfold in the coming weeks.
Title: “Shiva Baby”
Festival: TIFF (Discovery, Next Wave)
Buyer: Utopia Media
Emma Seligman’s debut feature forces star Rachel Sennott to navigate hilariously uncomfortable social situations during a post-funeral gathering. Utopia Media landed worldwide rights ahead of the premiere.
“Night of the Kings”
Title: “Night of the Kings”
Festival: Venice Horizons, TIFF (Contemporary World Cinema), NYFF (Main Slate)
Côte d’Ivoire director Philippe Lacôte’s visual stunner follows an incarcerated young man who is forced to spend a whole night recounting a story if he hopes to survive. Neon bought U.S. rights after its Italian premiere.
Title: “The Boy from Medellín”
Festival: TIFF (Special Events)
Latin Grammy-winner J Balvin, the “Prince of Reggaeton,” is the subject of Matthew Heineman’s latest documentary, which saw worldwide rights acquired by Amazon a few weeks ahead of its TIFF premiere.
“Salvatore: Shoemaker of Dreams”
Title: “Salvatore: Shoemaker of Dreams”
Festival: Venice (out of competition)
Buyer: Sony Pictures Classics
Director Luca Guadagnino tapped his “Call Me By Your Name” standout Michael Stuhlbarg to narrate the documentary about the life of fashion designer Salvatore Ferragamo. Sony Classics bought worldwide rights, excluding Italy.
Title: “One Night in Miami”
Festival: Venice (out of competition), TIFF (Gala)
Regina King’s directorial debut, based on the play Kemp Powers, who also wrote the story for the screen, explores the Civil Rights movement and Black celebrity through a fictionalized story of Cassius Clay (Eli Goree), Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir), Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge), and Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.) gathering to celebrate Clay’s victory against Sonny Liston. Amazon bought worldwide rights after a bidding war this summer.
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