It’s been a frenetic couple of weeks as the fall festivals jockey for attention for their slates, from New York and Venice to Toronto. TIFF’s top programmer Cameron Bailey still has all sort of announcements and surprises to come, from Midnight Madness to Documentaries and Contemporary World Cinema, to the new prime-time TV and Platform series. He called me from a last-minute screening to fill me in.
They did announce Michael Moore’s top-secret documentary "Where to Invade Next," which they will showcase at the beginning of the festival. Like everyone else, Bailey was unaware of the doc, which Moore was making secretly. But fest doc programmer Thom Powers knows Moore well and attends his Traverse City Film Festival. TIFF mounted an anniversary screening of "Roger and Me" last year, and told the filmmaker to keep in touch.
Michael contacted Powers and showed him a super-hush screening in New York."Nobody else had seen it outside of our film team," said Bailey. "Thom wrote and called Michael, he was bouncing off the ceiling about this film. It’s one of his strongest films yet. So then we thought, ‘what can we do to make it stand out?’ So we’re doing something the first night of the festival on September 10th, it will play right after the opening night film ‘Demolition’ to make sure all the key people in town can see it."
That’s because "Where to Invade Next" is seeking distribution–one more reason why Moore took the film to TIFF first. More than Venice or Telluride, TIFF is a go-to destination for sellers of acquisitions titles and key world buyers.
And the new Platform competition program is designed to enhance world titles from world auteurs who are seeking a North American berth. "We have been still working out Platform," Bailey said. "At what stage of director’s careers do we plug into Platform? Michael is by some measure mid-career, he’ll probably be making films for the next 15-20 years, he’s established, been in Competition at Cannes, made a $100-million grosser, won the Oscar. He’s not a filmmaker who will most benefit from Platform, which is designed to boost filmmakers up to the next level."
Other acquisition titles already announced are available: Jason Bateman’s comedy "The Family Fang" starring Bateman, Nicole Kidman, and Christopher Walken; Jonas Cuaron’s tense Mexican-U.S. border thriller "Desierto," starring Gael Garcia Bernal; "Colonia," set in Chile and starring global stars Emma Watson and Daniel Bruhl; and French-language comedy "Lolo," directed by and starring Julie Delpy.
The trick is to program the big sales titles at the front of the festival when buyers are in town and also not against each other. "It works best so films are not clumped on top of one another," said Bailey, "in terms of getting the buyers out. Distributors also have films at the festival of their own."
That’s why Bailey and his schedulers look at a huge white bulletin board –actually three strung together–with constantly moving colored cutout squares for each screening taped onto a grid. The final program will feature about 280 films. "We’ve been doing it the same way for years," he said. "It needs to be tactile so you can see the whole picture all at once, how things compare, we even color code so that we can see where they cluster, and can tell the shape of the festival."
For the opening night film "Demolition," TIFF talked to Fox Searchlight about several films. They’ve long played the films of Quebecois filmmaker Jean-Marc Vallee ("Wild"). "When we found out the film was dated 2016 we were concerned; we thought the film would be ready in September and wanted it, it was a matter of talking to everybody and seeing what they all thought. Jean-Marc was on board. We closed with ‘Young Victoria,’ but never opened before. It was not the standard rollout straight into release conversations, but Searchlight was open to figuring stuff out and went for it. That’s how we landed it–it did not happen instantly. In our 40th year, he’s a high-profile Canadian director."