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

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

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.

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.

Michael Roskam’s “The Drop,” based on the Dennis Lehane short story Animal Rescue,” starring Tom Hardy and Noomi Rapace, Reese Witherspoon in “The Wild,” based on the bestselling memoir, and “Birdman,” from Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, starring Michael Keaton as a one-time movie superhero. How will the companies pick and choose? 

Telluride is about far more than Oscar discoveries. And other changes are in store as Bay area-based Gary Meyer is launching a new website and film festival of his own, Eat Drink Films, and leaving full time co-director oversight to Huntsinger and Luddy–Meyer, who is an astute programmer of vintage and contemporary cinema, will continue as Telluride’s chief content curator.

This year’s guest directors will be the husband and wife team of Canadian director Guy Maddin (ten features, including “Takes from the Gimli Hospital”) and critic Kim Morgan. Their film selections, along with the rest of the Telluride lineup will be kept secret and unveiled on Opening Day, August 29, 2014. Past Guest Directors include Caetano Veloso, Michael Ondaatje, Alexander Payne, Salman Rushdie, Peter Bogdanovich, B. Ruby Rich, Phillip Lopate, Errol Morris, Bertrand Tavernier, John Boorman, John Simon, Buck Henry, Laurie Anderson, Stephen Sondheim, G. Cabrera Infante, Peter Sellars, Don DeLillo, and J.P. Gorin.

Check out the poster from the 41st Telluride Film Festival, from video artist Christian Marclay (“The Clock”). See it here. 

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