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David Poland

By David Poland poland@moviecitynews.com

Toronto Finally Wields Its Double-Edged Sword… Against Telluride’s Throat

This issue has dragged along for a few years now. I love Telluride, but It’s about time that Toronto stopped being so damned Canadian about the issue.

Like so many other things, film festivals can no longer take place in a vacuum. 10 years ago, the 2 trades, indieWIRE, maybe an LAT reporter, and a few others (including me) went to Telluride. The New York Times and Wall Street Journal not only didn’t cover intensely… they had never attended. Blogging didn’t exist at the time and the few heavy online film people, for the most part, didn’t go because of the cost. So reviews of films slated to premiere at Toronto but “snuck” in as TBAs happened there, but by the handful. It was inside baseball.

(Corrective Note: The New York Times actually did cover the first two years of Telluride (1974 & 1975). And Elvis Mitchell attended in 2002 and 2003 when he was with the Times (though I seem to recall that he attended when unemployed as well). Thank you for your attention.)

That changed a few years ago… really, with Jason Reitman and Juno. Big hit movie. Oscar movie.

Also, the media landscape changed. In the last 5 years, event coverage has become all the rage. From Cannes to Comic-Con to Telluride, suddenly everyone needed to be in the game.

Four years ago, The New York Film Festival, under Rose Kuo, decided that it wanted exclusive openings for 3 slots during the festival, which has always been primarily a festival of festivals with the first screenings of movies in New York City. The rule had been, for many years, that if you were going to open at NYFF, you would skip the Telluride/Toronto corridor, but you could premiere at Venice or even Cannes. So this was a big change.

NYFF got world premiere fever after its first world premiere in many years, The Social Network, which opened the festival in 2010. After that, the rule became that if you wanted one of the 3 high-profile slots at NYFF, you needed to be a World Premiere… no “sneak” at Telluride or Euro-premiere at Venice and obviously, no TIFF.

Then, in 2011, they opened with the North American premiere of Carnage, the world premiere of My Week With Marilyn, and a “sneak” of Hugo. In 2012, it was Opening Night with Life of Pi, Centerpiece, Not Fade Away, Closing Night with Flight, and the unannounced “sneak” of Lincoln.

Meanwhile, Toronto was just not being so demanding of distributors. The big Telluride TBA that was supposed to premiere in Toronto in 2011 was The Descendants. In 2012, it was Argo. But there were many others, without the Oscars, but with high profiles.

This last September, Toronto took it on the chin from Telluride on 12 Years A Slave, Gravity, and Prisoners, as well as the new Errol Morris, The Unknown Known, and the surprise hit and Oscar doc shortlistee Tim’s Vermeer.

And finally, enough was enough.

But instead of simply putting a black mark on any film that wanted to show at Telluride, TIFF made a Solomon-like decision. If you show at Telluride, you can play TIFF… but not on opening weekend (as reported by Anne Thompson).

This is a double-edged sword.

Opening weekend at Toronto has become a giant clusterfuck. Too many films. Too many films that MUST be seen.

I guess it can’t get any worse. But this edict also reenforces the insane over-prioritization of that opening weekend.

On the other hand, this could help extend the meat of the festival over a few more days… say, into the end of the first week… Wednesday.

And that would be a glorious blessing. It is tragic to see films opening Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday feel like they are being slighted of media and distribution attention. And they are. But they should not be. (Don’t even get me started on films opening Thursday or the festival closer.)

I would love it if some of the big players decided to have their cake and force those of us who attend TIFF to eat it, too. If Gravity, for instance, played Telluride and opened in Toronto on Tuesday, media would stay in Toronto to see it on Tuesday night. That would be great for everyone.

But like the Academy switching to potentially 10 nominees, we will see how it works. It could make a material—and happy—change to the landscape of TIFF. Or it could undercut a somewhat overly aggressive and media hungry Telluride of the last few years. Or, most likely, something in between.

I’m hoping for the win-win.

4 Responses to “Toronto Finally Wields Its Double-Edged Sword… Against Telluride’s Throat”

  1. Dusty says:

    Tim’s Vermeer did not get nominated, just FYI.

    ED. NOTE: Corrected to reflect shortlist status, thanks. – RP

  2. WG says:

    “This last September, Telluride took it on the chin from Telluride…” – They really stuck it to themselves.

    ED. NOTE: Corrected! Thanks. – RP

  3. chris says:

    Thanks for this! (And, as long as we’re crowd-editing, I think the headline is meant to be “Wields,” not “Yields.”)

  4. Joe Leydon says:

    The funny thing is, I can remember a time when some folks were complaining that distributors hosted back-to-back junkets throughout the entirety of TIFF — yes, even during the second weekend — and were overshadowing indie movies that had not yet been picked up by distributors. I may be misremembering this — and if I am, I’m sure someone will quickly correct me — but I think the “Princess Bride” junket occurred on the second weekend back in the day.

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“TIFF doesn’t make attendance numbers for its Lightbox screenings publicly available, so it’s difficult to gauge exactly how many filmgoers the Lightbox is attracting (or how much money it’s bringing in). But the King Street West venue hasn’t become a significant draw for film enthusiasts. The Lightbox’s attendance has plunged – 49,000 fewer visitors last year, a drop of 27 per cent, according to figures recently reported in the Toronto Star. Its gallery space – designed to showcase the visions of cinema’s most iconic filmmakers – saw most of its exhibitions staff quietly axed this past fall. And its marketing barely escapes the Lightbox’s walls. Unless you are a TIFF member or one of the city’s most avid filmgoers, you could walk by the Lightbox and remain blissfully unaware of a single thing that goes on inside. TIFF “still has a world-class brand,” said Barry Avrich, a filmmaker and former board member, “but it’s going to take some fresh vision from retail, consumer programming and marketing experts, given how the lines have become intensely blurred when it comes to how people watch film. They will have to experiment with programming to find the right blend of function and relevance.”
~ Globe & Mail Epic On State of Toronto Int’l (paywalled)

“I’m 87 years old… I only eat so I can smoke and stay alive… The only fear I have is how long consciousness is gonna hang on after my body goes. I just hope there’s nothing. Like there was before I was born. I’m not really into religion, they’re all macrocosms of the ego. When man began to think he was a separate person with a separate soul, it created a violent situation.

“The void, the concept of nothingness, is terrifying to most people on the planet. And I get anxiety attacks myself. I know the fear of that void. You have to learn to die before you die. You give up, surrender to the void, to nothingness.

“Anybody else you’ve interviewed bring these things up? Hang on, I gotta take this call… Hey, brother. That’s great, man. Yeah, I’m being interviewed… We’re talking about nothing. I’ve got him well-steeped in nothing right now. He’s stopped asking questions.”
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