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As Fall Fests Loom, Distributors Must Choose Between Telluride and Toronto (UPDATE)

Photo of Anne Thompson By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood June 18, 2014 at 3:46PM

The fabulously curated Telluride Film Festival has been on a roll of late. Founded forty years ago, the festival has been riding high on its prescient pre-Oscar bookings, from "Slumdog Millionaire" and 'The King's Speech" to "Argo." But last year, the combo of "12 Years a Slave" and "Gravity" broke the camel's back with rival Toronto Film Festival, whose artistic director Cameron Bailey threw down the gauntlet, demanding that distributors give TIFF the world or North American premiere if they want to play on the coveted high-profile opening weekend.
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Telluride
Telluride

If you were planning to book a spot on the annual charter flight from LAX to Colorado's Telluride Film Festival (August 29 through September 1, 2014), it's full. Every year the usual suspects convene at the LA airport and get their prized copy of the schedule to peruse on the flight. That's because the annual Labor Day Rocky Mountain festival does not announce its four-day slate in advance, trying to fly under the radar and skip the usual competition for world premieres.

Telluride's Gary Meyer, Julie Huntsinger, and Tom Luddy
Telluride's Gary Meyer, Julie Huntsinger, and Tom Luddy

This fabulously curated festival has been on a roll of late. Founded forty years ago by Bill and Stella Pence and continued by co-directors Gary Meyer, Julie Huntsinger and Tom Luddy, the festival has been riding high on its prescient pre-Oscar bookings, from "Slumdog Millionaire" and 'The King's Speech" to "Argo." 

Last year, however, the combo of "12 Years a Slave" and "Gravity" broke the camel's back with rival Toronto Film Festival, whose artistic director Cameron Bailey threw down the gauntlet, demanding that distributors give TIFF the world or North American premiere if they want to play on the coveted high-profile opening weekend.

While the media attendance in Telluride is miniscule compared to sprawling Toronto in September, social media spreads their pronouncements like kudzu, and both "12 Years a Slave" and "Gravity" arrived in Toronto as well-reviewed and established Oscar frontrunners. This year even Toronto film scribe Peter Howell of The Star considered trekking to Telluride, even though TIFF is in his back yard. You do get a head start that way. 

UPDATE: So it will be fascinating to see how the game plays out this year. Sony Pictures Classics customarily brings its slate to both festivals. Some seven films played at Cannes, from high-profile Oscar contenders-- Mike Leigh's "Mr. Turner," starring Cannes Actor-winner Timothy Spall, and Bennett Miller's "Foxcatcher" starring Steve Carrell and Channing Tatum--to New Zealand competition pickup "Wild Tales." Telluride debuted Miller's "Capote." 

Fox Searchlight has three films that could go to Telluride and/or Toronto.

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.