COMMENT: The nature of film premieres in the internet age means Telluride can’t exist in a vacuum.
Toronto’s Cameron Bailey has told Screen’s Jeremy Kay about the festival’s change of policy for films that world premiere in Telluride.
Telluride had said its programme, since it wasn’t pre-announced, was full of ‘sneak previews’ not world premieres.
For some it has seemed the perfect David vs Goliath story, the huge festival picking on the smaller event. But even as I think Toronto is a bit too Goliath sometimes, on this I agree that the nature of film premieres in the internet age means Telluride can’t exist in a vacuum.
I was in Venice last year waiting for the world premieres of films such as Under The Skin, yet seeing instant tweets and reviews out of Telluride.
Some might have been high praise, but it took a bit of the shine off Venice’s launches.
These films were being reviewed and tweeted about elsewhere, and in the digital age you can’t say that’s a sneak preview. Once the cat’s out of the bag, you can’t stuff it back in.
Even if Telluride managed to embargo reviews from professional journalists (in itself a struggle), there’s no way to contain the ordinary punters from spreading the digital word.
I’ve never been to Telluride (can’t afford it!) but I have heard many anecdotes about what a special place it is, the welcoming vibe from a small community of film lovers that makes a film’s first showing a different experience to the Toronto behemoth. Telluride is valuable to build buzz for a film before it hits the huge Toronto programme. But let’s also be honest, the Telluride selections are usually must-see films in Toronto anyway.
What’s important is that the films and their distributors shouldn’t suffer from the politics of premiere positioning. By moving any film with a Telluride premiere into a post-first-weekend slot, Toronto knows that some of the industry and critics will start to trickle out of town and miss out. But as an audience festival, Toronto will still guarantee great audiences for those ‘late’ screeners.
If Telluride wants to continue its place as a film lover’s retreat, maybe it should move after Toronto when premiere status won’t matter. That’s not a simple solution and it means Telluride’s importance would fall a bit in the calendar (although it would still be a great early awards-season platform to the 200 or so Oscar voters who turn up in Telluride).
Behind the scenes of this jostling is how we communicate about films in the modern age. It’s now common practice in Cannes to tweet a reaction to a Competition press screening before you even leave the Palais. I understand the thrill of communicating your gut response but it’s also dangerous to sum up a film’s essence or its future prospects in 140 characters or less before the credits finish rolling (and yes, I’ve been guilty of it).
It particularly galls me when a film is touted as an Oscar contender and then its chances are wiped out within minutes of a premiere. Yes, some turkeys are turkeys and should be called out by critics. But can we stop for 60 seconds, or perhaps even a few measured hours, to consider not just a film’s awards chances, but if it was, well, any good?
What’s nice about discussing films in Toronto (or Telluride, for that matter) is that the festival isn’t competitive (aside from an audience award). Cannes can sometimes feel like punters describing horses in a race rather than films.
No matter the premiere status, or the tweet volume, let’s try to remember that it’s still all about seeing some of the best films of the year.
Wendy Mitchell is Editor of Screen International