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The Toronto International Film Festival Insists on Premieres for its Opening Weekend

Photo of Anne Thompson By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood January 28, 2014 at 1:38PM

In the past few years, more and more media and fest-watchers have gotten the jump on September's smorgasbord of offerings at the Toronto International Film Festival over the Labor Day Weekend at the Telluride Film Festival where they discovered eventual Oscar-winners "The King's Speech," "Slumdog Millionaire" and "Argo"--before TIFF could claim them as its own.
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TIFF artistic director Cameron Bailey
TIFF artistic director Cameron Bailey

Film festivals track world premieres religiously. They want to boast of them when box office glory and Oscars come around. So last fall it did not go over well when the Telluride Film Festival debuted--under the radar, as is their wont--Fox Searchlight's "12 Years a Slave," "Gravity," and Canadian Denis Villeneuve's "Prisoners," which were all breaking opening weekend at the Toronto International Film Festival. In the past few years, more and more media and fest-watchers have gotten the jump on September's smorgasbord of offerings at TIFF over the Labor Day Weekend in Telluride, Colorado, where they discovered eventual Oscar-winners "The King's Speech," "Slumdog Millionaire" and "Argo"--before Toronto could claim them as its own.

As artistic director Cameron Bailey told me last fall, for Toronto 2014 (September 4 through September 14) the festival has decided to clamp down on the rules for its opening four days. "All films playing in the first four days of the festival must be world premiere or North American premieres," he states. "'World premiere' means the first public screening of the film anywhere in the world. 'North American premiere' means the first public screening anywhere in Canada, the United States or Mexico. Invited films that screen elsewhere in North America prior to their Toronto screening will be scheduled from the Monday of our festival onward. In additional the festival's Opening Night film must be a world premiere. The closing night film must be a world or international premiere."

Toronto is throwing the gauntlet down to filmmakers who want to go to Telluride. They must make a choice. While Telluride goes out of its way to say that they don't play the premiere game, don't claim them and don't announce them in advance--they reveal their selection on the first day of the festival, as a surprise. But Bailey's attitude is that those four opening weekend slots are prime real estate and the distributors and filmmakers who know where their movie is playing had better be upfront about it. No more surprises. 

This article is related to: Telluride Film Festival, Telluride, Toronto, Toronto International Film Festival, Festivals


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.