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.