Why smaller films are getting lost in the shuffle at the Toronto International Film Festival.
Before Toronto 2013 kicked off, I made a joke that in honour of the New York political party The Rent Is Too Damn High, that we should call TIFF The Festival Is Too Damn Big – based partially on the number of PR emails I was getting pre-festival.
But during the festival, it didn’t seem like a laughing matter. Of the hundred or so film professionals I spoke to during my week at TIFF, nearly every one was complaining that the festival was too big. Surely the amazing films should be the talking point, not the schedule conflicts. One major US distribution executive told me point blank: “This festival is eating itself.”
It now seems the size of the programme is doing a disservice to some filmmakers, and some good films are being lost in the shuffle.
Toronto hosted 289 features, of which 147 were world premieres.
Distributors have sometime three or four films they need to scout in one given time slot (especially over the first weekend). That’s not even including the private market screenings and pitches of forthcoming titles going on in the unofficial market, with those you might as well say they are considering 400+ feature. It’s interesting that the first deal on the ground in Toronto was for a Venice hit with a private screening — Locke — that TIFF programmers passed on. With a programme this big, such omissions seem even more notable.
Scheduling so many films inevitably leads to other clashes – for instance, Creative Scotland backed four new films in the festival, three of them debuted on the same night.
During the first half of the festival, when most industry executives and press are attending, there is simply too much going on at the same time. The last four or five days might feel more relaxed with programming conflicts, but that’s when most industry guests have already left town.
No publication I’ve encountered has the resources to do proper reviews of all those films, or even just all the world premieres. So filmmakers are disappointed if they don’t get reviews.
Let’s say most industry attendees and press feel like they need to concentrate on the top half of those 289 films, that’s 145 films (gulp) – these are the buzzy Midnight Madness films, the Oscar contenders, and those by major international names. The ‘second-tier’ 145 are really struggling to feel important. And in reality the tiers are probably a top 50 and a bottom 239.
I’m not talking about quality, some of these ‘second-tier’ will be as well crafted as the first; I’m just saying they aren’t in the top tier of attention.
By the end of weekend one, I saw a producer of one of those ‘second-tier’ international films, he had given up on getting most publications to review his film during Toronto, he instead just gave me a DVD and said he hoped Screen could review it for its next festival in a month or so. He looked a bit browbeaten.
Publicists working on these second-tier films are now taking on jobs telling filmmakers they can’t guarantee any media coverage — not just reviews but interviews too. That’s sad, but realistic — it’s too hard to cut through the noise of the bigger films and get attention for the discovery titles.
Yes, of course, Toronto is a huge audience-facing festival, and you could argue that the more features it offers to its audience, the better for them. That may be true. But no filmmaker gets into Toronto only wanting to show to a friendly Canadian audience. They want the press and industry attention that comes with being selected for one of the world’s top film festivals.
So what’s the fix? Toronto could play 200 features instead of 300. Or some filmmakers, especially with smaller or foreign-language films, could realize that other smaller festivals would provide a better launch pad if they are looking for industry and press attention.
Toronto is a behemoth and always will be, which is part of its appeal that it’s got so much on offer. It’s also a festival that programmes amazing films, offers impressive infrastructure, great local audiences, and manageable footprint in a film-friendly city that global executives like to visit. At its current size, it’s just a case of too much of a good thing.