The Nate Parker Effect: Will Indie Buyers Start Vetting Filmmakers?

Toronto Film Festival Preview: “From now on, any legal division could make a vet a standard decision,” one top sales agent tells TheWrap

Last Updated: September 1, 2016 @ 5:46 PM

Movie buyers and sellers headed to next week’s Toronto International Film Festival are buzzing about a possible Nate Parker effect on the market.

Given the firestorm that has surrounded “The Birth of a Nation” director, co-writer and star after Fox Searchlight paid an historic $17.5 million for the film at Sundance, numerous industry insiders told TheWrap that they expect filmmakers to undergo a rigorous vetting process before companies close distribution deals at TIFF and beyond.

“From now on, any legal division could make a vet a standard decision,” said one top agent with several high-profile sales titles in Toronto.

“Ten years ago, Fox Searchlight picked up a film called ‘Once’ and didn’t have the musical rights secured, and that will never happen again,” the agent added, likening an investigation of personal history to a line item in any standard contract.

Some are skeptical that there will be any lasting effect from the Parker saga, which involved the first-time filmmaker falling under renewed scrutiny for a 1999 sexual assault charge for which he was later acquitted.

“Buyers aren’t going to put an FBI person on the job — there’s not going to be a rap sheet in the contract,” another film sales executive heading north next week told TheWrap. “Most distributors are conservative in general about any problem that affects release, but I think they make decisions based on content.”

But one high-ranking studio executive said that background checks are perhaps “something we should have been doing all along. But in the case of ‘Birth,’ it really feels like an aberration. The movie was so high-profile, it was bound to see this kind of attention. And it’s not like you have to look far to find out what happened with Nate.”

Indeed, Parker had spoken about the case as early as 2007, in press for the Denzel Washington film “Freedom Writers.” But in recent conversations promoting “Birth”‘s release and awards campaign, it was revealed his accuser took her own life in 2012, which resulted in the resurfacing of the incident and Parker’s eventual acquittal.

Filmmakers hoping to sell their projects at Toronto may have less cause for anxiety. Deals at TIFF aren’t as prolific as, say, the dozens of indie buys out of Sundance or the international packages sold at Cannes. Still, distributors have frequently pick up movies at the festival, sometimes releasing them in time for awards consideration that year.

Recent examples of TIFF sales that became award nominees in the same cycle include last year’s “Anomalisa,” the Oscar-nominated stop-motion film from Charlie Kaufman, and 2014’s “Still Alice,” for which Julianne Moore won the Best Actress Oscar.

Many of the festival’s sexiest titles have already been sold, like Tom Ford‘s “Nocturnal Animals” (Focus Features) and Ewan McGregor‘s directorial debut “American Pastoral” (Lionsgate). “Birth” itself will see its international premiere at TIFF, where Parker will appear personally and face print and television press.

The 2016 Toronto International Film Festival runs Sept. 8 – 18. Follow TheWrap’s coverage here.