While pundits study each fall film festival lineup, gauge the reactions at each screening, and endlessly alter their awards season charts, what often goes unappreciated is the burden of expectation programmers face when choosing the movies to debut. Not only do they have to tussle with competing fests for the big premieres, but they also see early, unfinished cuts of movies and must then determine if the project is one they can afford passing up or if it’s worth taking the risk. And last year, it looks like Toronto International Film Festival lost a gamble on an Oscar winner.
In a THR piece today about major purchases from distributors at TIFF, “Birdman” producer John Lesher noted that programmers at that fest passed over the Best Picture winner. “We didn’t go to Toronto because we didn’t get into Toronto,” he said. “We showed it to them as an early cut. Let’s just say folks at Toronto weren’t as enthusiastic as everyone else was.” Indeed, the picture wound up playing every other major fall festival: Venice, Telluride, New York, and London. Whoops.
But Lesher still knows the importance of TIFF, and this year his latest effort, the Johnny Depp gangster flick “Black Mass” hits Toronto, following stops in Venice and Telluride. And you could probably go to every festival, talk to organizers, and they’ll likely have their stories of the ones that got away. So chalk this up as bit of interesting trivia before this year’s TIFF starts on Thursday.