Tuesday, July 29, 2014

TIFF14: To premiere or not to premiere!

Piers Handling and Cameron Bailey make the first
slate of programming announcements on July 22nd.
TIFF made its first significant programming annoucement last week while I had my feet up in a hammock on an island. Today, many more titles are coming down, including a very exciting TIFF Docs slate. Catching up now all at once! Time to return to this blog and start the ramp up to TIFF 2014! 

But first, a commentary. During the past couple of weeks, TIFF's January-announced policy on keeping exclusivity in World and North American premieres for the first four days, has been gaining controversy. I'm not sure I understand why. This makes complete sense to me. The close proximity with other festivals taking place in the same 30 days has meant TIFF has had to do some collegial jockeying as inevitably the best of films showing internationally (Venice, San Sebastian, Tokyo) have made their way to TIFF for their first North American exposure. The bigger challenge by far is in the North American fests (Montreal, New York, and particularly Telluride). As these other fests continue to grow (and none of them are "new"), they have become more anxious for exclusive exhibitions. TIFF insisting on a World or NA premiere in the coveted first four days maintains the integrity of the festival as an exhibitor -- and to my mind counteracts a bit the growing concerns I've had about the way in which TIFF has sometimes offered Gala spots to high profile Hollywood product, already seen at Telluride and set to be released soon anyway. It's an integrity shift that is a good sign: premieres are what they say they are and those who want to get the best of all worlds will not be able to show in Toronto, perhaps making room for some wonderful smaller film that would not have had a chance. Why should a top Hollywood film get seen at Telluride and Toronto in the same week, when another film can have that spot at one or the other fest?

Telluride has always been out there but in the last few years it has become a significant bellwether for the Academy Awards as Academy voters turn up to see what's on view. What used to be an 'avant-premiere' (to quote Piers Handling) relationship with Toronto began to be muddy when the Colorado fest began to expand. I think it's appropriate and that film distributors and even filmmakers should be faced with that tough choice. Last year I remember being surprised at the billed-world premiere evening screening of Pawel Pawlikowski's Ida when both Handling and Pawlikowski told us that the film had already shown in Colorado just days before its official world premiere in Toronto. I liked that they told us, that it wasn't just something I figured out -- but I can see that being problematic. While it can make sense to a filmmaker to go for that potential Academy exposure at Telluride, TIFF programmers have longstanding relationships with filmmakers who respect having been put on the scene by them. (Like Pawlikowski.) This new arrangement protects the filmmakers, as well, from being torn between fests. It's straightforward business and loyalty.  Tough decision, because there would be many films TIFF might like to pull into its first weekend and now can't because they've already been exposed. Some see this as self-damaging and imperialist and time will tell. My own sense is that if it is a leader in film exhibition and film sales, then TIFF should draw these lines in the sand. Some wonderful sleeper hit could be born in the space created by a moved-out Hollywood release. I feel relieved by this decision, actually. It's not all about Oscar!!

Notes on the programming itself in coming posts! 

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