The Toronto International Film Festival Gambling on New Premieres Policy

August 21, 2014 |  Tags: , , ,
Toronto International Film Festival

Toronto International Film Festival

Tickets to the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) are always hard to come by, and this year will be no exception. TIFF announced most of the line-up recently, including world premieres by many of the entertainment world’s elite, such as Chris Rock, Noah Baumbach, Chris Evans and Jason Reitman.


The films that have been announced will be screened during the first four days of the festival, from Thursday to Sunday, September 4th through the 7th. Media attention is most intense at the Toronto International Film Festival during that period, and films scheduled for release in the upcoming award season can succeed or fail due to word of mouth, and, of course, the critics.


Notably absent from the list are two of this year’s most eagerly anticipated films by Brad Pitt and his stable mate Angelina Jolie. Both are period pieces set in World War II. Pitt’s film is called “Fury.” Jolie’s is named “Unbroken.”


These films may not even be shown at TIFF due to a decision to get tough on the competition, namely the Telluride Film Festival, which is typically held the week before TIFF. Other high-profile films may also be scratched from TIFF, as well.


Toronto feels it is losing its status as the North American showcase for the fall blockbusters. For example, last year films that won awards and made oodles of money were given highly prized slots during the opening weekend at TIFF, including “Dallas Buyers Club,” “Gravity” and “12 Years a Slave.” In actuality, only “Dallas Buyers Club” was an actual world premiere. “12 Years a Slave” enjoyed a “sneak screening” at the Telluride fest, and “Gravity” screened earlier at two events, the Venice Film Festival and Telluride.


Technically these sneak screenings weren’t world premieres, but if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, you know the rest. So did TIFF organizers who argued that their thunder was being stolen by these sneak screenings. Telluride was depriving TIFF of the status that comes from an honest premiere, which brings prestige and movie goers like nothing else. In other words, who wants to be number two?


Therefore, Toronto festival director Piers Handling and artistic director Cameron Bailey began a new policy several months ago. Any films that are screened in Telluride ahead of their “world premiere” at TIFF may not be shown during the first four days of TIFF. That would have included both “Gravity” and “12 Years a Slave” had they been released this year and were shown at Telluride. They would not have been included in the all-important first weekend at TIFF.


That means that studios must now decide whether to screen their films at Telluride or TIFF. That also means there will be more true premieres at TIFF in 2014. Other films will simply skip Toronto and only show in Telluride. Telluride could also choose to pass on some movies, since their schedule is smaller than TIFF’s.


That reduction in the number of films available for the first four days is behind TIFF’s decision to include a commercial thriller like Antoine Fuqua’s “The Equalizer” reboot starring Denzel Washington. Normally, TIFF goes for upscale, awards-ready movies, but the rules may lessen the field, so some unlikely candidates may sneak onto the slate.


New films scheduled for this year include several dramedies, including Reitman’s “Men, Women & Children,” Baumbach’s “While We’re Young” and Shawn Levy’s “This is Where I Leave You.” Evans’ first directorial effort is a drama, “Before We Go.” Rock has had seven years since his last directorial effort, but he returned to action with his new comedy “Top Five.” Although these are all great snags for TIFF, there are bound to be some films lost in the scuffle.


Toronto has also had to deal with an ever-popular New York Film Festival which has been attracting several North American and world premieres. This year, for example, New York scored David Fincher’s adaptation of the blockbuster thriller “Gone Girl” and Alejandro Gonzales Innaritu’s “Birdman.”


Two big name films are willing to go the Telluride-Toronto route by calling their TIFF screening a Canadian premiere and accepting a slot later in the week. Jon Stewart’s directorial debut “Rosewater,” about an Iranian journalist, and the Benedict Cumberbatch’s code-breaking film “The Imitation Game” are willing to go it that way.


It seems by the lush list of films debuting at the TIFF, Handling and Bailey’s strategy seems to have worked. When forced with the decision, most studios will go for the glitzier, media-ready Toronto fest instead of Teluride’s low-key festival.


However, that sword could be double-edged. If a film that debuts at Telluride hits big, then Telluride could claim the clout that Toronto has always gathered. However, if a film debuts at Telluride and flops, Toronto could easily say “We told you so.” That means that for the studios, the stakes are higher.


The effect on moviegoers could be dramatic. If a film does well at its world premiere, it’s likely to stay in the theaters longer. If it doesn’t get the kind of boost it needs, it could get short shrift and be gone before the ink dries on the one sheets.


Don’t miss out on the Toronto International Film Festival. There will be significantly more world premieres. Plus, the after parties are huge and awesome. VIP Concierge has tickets to the festival and VIP passes to the after parties. That’s what we do, and we do it for you, you lucky dog.