The old Toronto vs Telluride rivalry has reared its ugly head again after Indiewire’s Anne Thompson wrote yesterday (and others followed) that Festival Director Cameron Bailey told her last Fall that they would enforce an ironclad rule that any films playing the Toronto International Film Festival’s first four days would have to be World or North American premieres. And that means “premiere” in the purest sense of the word. The World Premieres must be the first time the films are seen publicly anywhere and North American means U.S., Canada and Mexico. Any others would not get slots until the first Monday (traditionally when the heat starts progressively diminishing). This is what TIFF is telling studios and distributors. It is clearly saber rattling towards Telluride which most recently debuted films like 12 Years A Slave, Gravity and Prisoners before Toronto’s “official” World and North American Premieres.
Telluride, unlike Toronto, doesn’t reveal its schedule until the start of the Labor Day weekend fest and does not label any of its films as “premieres”. Sometimes, as in the case of 12 Years and Prisoners they don’t even include them then, and try to serve them up as unannounced sneak previews during the course of the weekend. Gravity was coming from the Venice Film Festival opening night so that was not kept as a secret. Other Telluride pictures, first seen at the Cannes Film Festival in May, were Inside Llewyn Davis, Nebraska and All Is Lost. They all skipped Toronto entirely after Telluride and headed to the New York Film Festival later in the month. It’s no wonder TIFF is concerned, especially if they sense a trend. Telluride may not call their films “premieres” or even advertise them as such but the intimate Colorado festival which celebrated its 40th anniversary with the last edition has steadily been drawing a lot more media attention, awards bloggers and high profile contenders with each passing year. There’s no question it is stealing some of TIFF’s thunder. That has to irk Toronto which is the Big Kahuna of fests, sporting approximately 300 titles with many premiering against each other. This year, for instance, The Weinstein Company even had dueling premieres on a Monday night with August: Osage County and One Chance. And Harvey Weinstein publicly stated it was probably a mistake to bring in Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom as a TIFF World Premiere before it was really ready. It got lukewarm critical reception at TIFF in that version. It probably hurt the film.
For their part Telluride doesn’t seem too concerned about this week’s sudden renewed media attention over who gets what first when it comes to the Fall festival derby. “This is not a new problem and we deal with it every year,” a Telluride source told me. Bottom line is the decisions are made by distributors in check with the filmmakers themselves. Telluride programmers don’t even know what Toronto’s schedule is going to be when all this is going on. But will this renewed dictum really spark a dogfight between the fests? Telluride is getting used to it. The fest even had a flareup with the Venice Film Festival last Fall over the Errol Morris documentary , The Unknown Known and two other films (Under The Skin and Palo Alto) which were “sneaked” in Telluride even before their so-called World Premiere took place in Venice (which overlaps the shorter Telluride dates). “For next year we will all have to be agreed on the ground rules. If a movie is in competition here in Venice it has to screen here first,” Venice’s artistic director Alberto Barbera said at the time to Variety (a publication of Deadline’s owner PMC). Of course Venice doesn’t take anyone’s seconds. Both TIFF and Telluride feed heavily off films that have their World Premieres in Cannes more than three months earlier. So there you have it. The guns are drawn in Europe and Canada and they are pointed at Colorado. Fun stuff.
Every movie is unique so it would seem there would be room for all. Robert Redford, for instance, chose to go (and be honored ) to Telluride with All Is Lost over a return to TIFF where he had been the previous year with his The Company You Keep which was given a late Sunday night slot for its premiere, not exactly prime time for someone like Redford who introduced the film around 10 PM that night as I recall. Alexander Payne wanted to take Nebraska to Telluride. He has a strong relationship with the festival, even in years when he doesn’t have a film to show. Fox Searchlight has “sneaked” many future Oscar winners like Juno and Slumdog Millionaire in Telluride before heading to Toronto. Warners discovered the value of a one-two punch at the fests last year with Argo and went on to win Best Picture. And on and on. Personally I love both these festivals. One is small and totally film-centric, while the other is huge and a fun hybrid of a market and a festival. Both get terrific films and lots of attention. So does Venice. All have value. And quite frankly what is wrong with having top Oscar-contending titles play throughout the 11-day Toronto Festival, rather than all bunched in that first hellish weekend?
One Oscar consultant for a major awards season player likes both TIFF and Telluride for different reasons. “Toronto is a place you go to sell movies and create attention. Telluride is a place you go because you love movies. By nature one is a market and one is like a Mecca. I think people are going to call Toronto on their bluff on this. This year at Toronto the first half was like a traffic jam. The movies really need to breathe a little bit. I think it is good to spread them out in the second half. I think you are going to see that. I thought this year in Toronto you were seeing people waiting for movies to fail , whereas in Telluride they were looking for discoveries. They are so different,” said this consultant.
Can’t we just all learn to get along?