Word during last month’s Cannes Film Festival was that September’s upcoming Toronto International Film Festival had changed course about insisting — as it did last year — that all movies shown during the first four days of the festival be either World or North American Premieres. It appeared to be a dead policy going forward. No big deal if true, but it turned out this isn’t quite the case.
The 2014 attempt to blunt the awards-season impact and emerging importance of Telluride as a venue to premiere Oscar-level movies really didn’t have much of an effect on anything. Toronto got its firsts. Venice got its firsts. And as a matter of fact, so did Telluride, which had unofficially (that fest never labels anything as a World or North American Premiere) launched Oscar players in the U.S. in recent years including 12 Years A Slave, Argo, Gravity, The King’s Speech, Slumdog Millionaire, Up In The Air, Black Swan, Juno, etc., etc. In 2014 Telluride managed to “premiere” for North American audiences eventual Best Picture winner Birdman (which skipped Toronto altogether) and nominee The Imitation Game, among others.
But the inference in some trade reports that this was a “reversal” of policy for TIFF didn’t really seem to get the meaning of the fine print in a Wednesday statement that it had altered its young policy because of “key stakeholder” concerns (whatever that means). “Based on that feedback, we have made some minor adjustments to the policy to ensure that Toronto continues to do what is best for the filmmaker and the film while at the same time providing Toronto audiences with a fantastic festival experience. As such, in 2015, all films playing in the first four days of the festival must be a World Premiere or North American premiere if they are to screen at the following venues: Roy Thomson Hall, Princess Of Wales, and the Visa Screening Room at the Elgin Theatre,” TIFF said, adding that Canadian Premieres (i.e., stuff that already played Venice, Telluride, Sundance, Cannes, etc.) can begin screening in those prime venues from Monday forward or in any other theater except those three at any time during the 11-day fest.
“Minor adjustments” is the key phrase here. It’s certainly not a reversal. So for those who live and breathe TIFF (and Telluride for that matter) that means the multiplex Scotiabank, which exists primarily as the venue for press and industry buyer screenings, and not an elegant place to have a splashy TIFF premiere, would be okay. So would Bell Lightbox, also not terribly desirable for red carpets, and the dreaded Rhyerson, which is way out of the way and not even close to walking distance. It’s also certainly my least favorite venue, kind of dreary. None of those venues have anywhere near the capacity or class of the key three the festival has put restrictions on. Clever TIFF. You managed to get some press saying you have “reversed” this policy when in fact you have simply told a lot of players in this game that they can premiere whenever they want in Toronto, but they may have to settle for going coach, not first class. I can think of VERY few major Oscar contenders or hot button acquisition titles that didn’t have their “official ” TIFF premiere anywhere but the three venues TIFF says remain off limits to anything but North American or World Premieres for the first (let’s face it most important) four days of the fest. So in essence for the movies that count, and the venues that matter, TIFF is carrying this ballgame into extra innings. They insist it has nothing to do with film selection, only scheduling. We shall see how studios and distributors react. Those first four or five days are prime time. For some they will likely opt for the lesser venues simply for convenience of being able to premiere on whatever day they choose in the first half of the Fest, but for those particular big preems it looks like the bloom is off the rose style-wise. One key studio player tells Deadline: “I think it’s really ridiculous. The festivals are such different beats and have such distinct energies. I can’t recall anyone sacrificing their premiere screening in one of those houses!”
I for one LOVE Toronto’s fest. There’s nothing like it, and personally it is all about the movies, not necessarily where they play that matters, but I have a feeling premiere planners will have a different take on things as TIFF adds yet another curve to this winding road of festival dominance.