The Venice-Toronto marathon offers such challenges for buyers and press, plenty of films can get lost in the shuffle. So why don’t producers experiment with other festivals?

One hundred and seventy-one. That’s the combined tally of world premieres at Venice and Toronto this year. For any acquisitions executive or journalist, this frantic two-week period is as daunting as it gets, and it’s even harder for those who just go to Toronto where they also have to cover films from Venice in the space of a week.
Of course it’s impossible to do these festivals justice. Buyers rush in and out of screenings, making hasty decisions as they hurry to the next film.

“If producers and sales agents are determined to go the Venice or Toronto route, they have to understand the challenges facing buyers and media in covering the hundreds of films in the mix”

Watching seven or eight films or part of them a day leaves many exhausted and burnt out. Of course not all of the 171 are available and buyers target the titles that interest them the most, but it’s still a nightmare. In Toronto especially, there’s a stark contrast between the general public clearly enjoying their city’s finest film event, and the harried buyers and critics stepping on and off a merry-go-round of screenings.

I often wonder why producers and sales agents don’t share the wealth and give high-profile world premieres to summer festivals such as Edinburgh, Locarno or Sarajevo, or wait for San Sebastian, Rome or London. After all, if you’re one of 100 world premieres in Toronto, the chances are quite high you will get lost altogether and fail to raise any kind of profile.

But of course not only do these two festivals carry the lion’s share of the prestige this side of Cannes, but in these lean economic times, they offer the most effective launch pad ‹ snagging a diversity of buyers which, let’s face it, you don’t get at the other ones. And of course, sellers also love those Toronto audiences, who embrace everything in the line-up with apparent delight.

Which leads me to the press. At Screen, naturally, we have a commitment to cover the new crop of world cinema and we review and highlight as much as our budgets will allow. Most other media are less fortunate, forced by editorial demands to pursue interviews with George Clooney or Megan Fox.

It’s a well-known fact that at Toronto, most journalists sit around the Four Seasons waiting for studio junkets and star opps. They barely get a look at an independent film, let alone a foreign-language one.

I spoke to a publicist the other day and asked him for a screener of a world premiere European film in advance of Toronto. That way, we could work out our coverage in advance and run a review the day after the screening. His reply was that it would be better if I wait until the festival and see it on the big screen.

Yes, of course, I too would prefer to see it on the big screen as it was intended. But alas, amid the overwhelming abundance of the Toronto film festival, it might fall between the cracks. We would love to review all the titles, interview all the film-makers and take pictures of talent at every screening but we can’t. It’s impossible. Just like buyers, we have to prioritise and do as much in advance as we can.

If producers and sales agents are determined to go the Venice or Toronto route, they have to understand the challenges facing buyers and media in covering the hundreds of films in the mix. Add to that sheer volume of films, the pressure of finding a seat in the press-and-industry screenings or the mad dash in a taxi during rush hour to make a 7pm start, and you get the picture.

Whether sellers manage to get the buyers into their particular screening in Toronto is another question, especially since buyers have so many demands on their time. But I suppose you have a better chance of reeling them in if they are at least in the same city.

Is this the ideal way for films to be seen, assessed, reviewed, bought and sold? Of course not, but it’s the only way in the current calendar. For this journalist, juggling the daily plethora of pitches, coverage requests and review deadlines, only the prospect of a large drink at the end of the evening keeps me sane.