Yesterday Indiewire‘s Anne Thompson and TheWrap‘s Steve Pond reported on a firm “either-or” declaration by Toronto Film Festival artistic director Cameron Bailey, to wit: if producers/distributors henceforth unveil their Oscar-bait films at the Telluride Film Festival, they can’t show them during the first four days of the 2014 Toronto Film Festival (9.4 thru 9.14). How will producers/distributors respond? I’d be hugely surprised if they decide to blow off Telluride, which is easily the more preferred venue for award-season kickoffs.
Anyone who knows the game will tell you that Toronto is the Chicago stockyards — an overcrowded, market-driven clusterfuck — while Telluride is a serene haven of refined taste and film-nerd worship — the ideal launch for any film that needs the right people to see it and embrace it (or at least thoughtfully kick it around) and begin the conversation.
Toronto’s “uh-oh” bell sounded last August when the reps of J.C. Chandor‘s All Is Lost, Joel and Ethan Coen‘s Inside Llewyn Davis and Alexander Payne‘s Nebraska decided to preemptively cast their lot with Telluride and sidestep Toronto. Bailey didn’t have to threaten them by withdrawing TIFF slots during the first four days — they decided to ignore Toronto altogether. This initiated what I called “a relatively new fall-festival phenomenon — the Oscar-contending, Telluride-preferring, Toronto-blowoff movie.”
In a 9.3 followup piece called “Nipping at Toronto’s Heels,” I wrote that “producers [are feeling] that the Toronto clusterfuck factor (i.e., so many films, so little time) means that their films might get overlooked in the shuffle. I wonder if this indicated a significant shift in thinking among award-season strategists? Is Toronto losing some of its lustre to the Venice, Telluride and New York Film Festivals, which happen right before and after Toronto?
“Today Variety reviewer and Motion Picture Blog editor/essayist Joe Leydon, a longtime Toronto Film Festival veteran, shared some thoughts along these lines: ‘Considering how many Toronto-bound films are premiering this year at Venice and Telluride, I wonder how long it will be before someone suggests that TIFF go back to calling itself the ‘Festival of Festivals,’” Leydon wrote. “Not that there would be anything wrong with that, you understand.'”
The importance of the Toronto Film Festival has clearly been undergoing a reevaluation over the last two or three years. I wouldn’t say it’s on the ropes, but the competitive elbowing by the Venice, Telluride and New York festivals has caused some damage. Bailey felt he had to do something — he couldn’t just continue to be piranha-bitten to death.
Pond writes that “if enough films choose to hang onto the more intimate and less overwhelming environment in Telluride, it could…turn the typically-frontloaded Toronto festival into an event where the key titles are unveiled over an entire week or 10 days rather than crammed into a frenetic opening weekend.” And what’s wrong with that? Nothing at all. That’s actually a good thing, if you ask me. Things are always a little slow during TIFF’s final four days.