TORONTO (Hollywood Reporter) - As a generally lackluster sales scene limped to a close at the Toronto International Film Festival, it took a project that hasn’t even begun shooting to get one major player to open wide its checkbook.
Paramount Vantage, the art-house division of Paramount Pictures, is in final negotiations to prebuy North American, Latin American and Australian rights to “The Duchess,” starring Keira Knightley and Ralph Fiennes, for about $7 million. The movie, set in the world of the 18th century British aristocracy, begins production this month in London.
The festival, heavy this year with political films, saw a mass exodus of buyers beginning Tuesday, the anniversary of September 11. The events of September 11 brought Toronto to a halt six years ago, but they weren’t even mentioned this week. Instead, it was the weak sales climate that most concerned attendees.
“A lot of people wasted a lot of money coming up here,” said a studio executive who hadn’t acquired any Toronto features. “The available films were very disappointing. It was the weakest festival in my long memory.”
The festival officially wraps September 15.
As for Toronto titles still in search of buyers, a number of smaller deals were inching toward deals, including Italian filmmaker Dario Argento’s horrorfest “Mother of Tears,” starring daughter Asia Argento, and Stuart Townsend’s World Trade Organization protest drama “Battle in Seattle,” featuring an ensemble led by the director’s girlfriend, Charlize Theron.
Two edgy films, the schoolyard-shooting drama “In Bloom” and the suburban Lolita satire “Nothing Is Private,” failed to trigger heated bidding wars.
“In Bloom,” a $12 million project starring Uma Thurman, Evan Rachel Wood and Eva Amurri, found some tentative interest from Lionsgate. In the end, though, producer 2929 Productions kept it in-house by opting to distribute the film through Magnolia Pictures. Both are owned by 2929 Entertainment, the diversified vehicle run by Internet entrepreneur Mark Cuban and Todd Wagner.
The Columbine-style movie premiered Saturday night to mixed reaction and walkouts that had little or nothing to do with the film; buyers simply were rushing off to see “American Beauty” writer Alan Ball’s squirm-inducing “Nothing Is Private,” which revolves around the sexual-awakening of a 13-year-old Arab-American girl.
It drew extreme reactions and ultimately a $1.25 million deal Tuesday with Warner Independent Pictures and Red Envelope Entertainment, the content division of DVD rental firm Netflix.