In this month's column, we look at three events that kick off the fall festival season. How do they impact what we'll be seeing in our theaters in the next few months -- and at the Academy Awards next year?
Toronto International Film Festival
Who: The festival has always been proud of its reputation as a festival for local audiences. Over the past 20 years, especially, industry professionals and film critics have flocked to Toronto in increasing numbers.
What: It began in 1976 and was initially known as the "Festival of Festivals," screening favorites that had already played at other film festivals. The festival was renamed the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) in 1994. The initial lineup of 127 films has now ballooned to more than 300 titles in this year's schedule.
Where: Toronto, Canada
When: September 8-18
Why: The festival still functions as a 'festival of festivals,' premiering dozens of films that first played at other festivals for the benefit of local audiences. Admissions exceed 500,000; even with many, many pass and repeat ticket buyers, that's a staggering number for a city of 2.5 million people.
The enthusiasm of local audiences -- and its timing in early September, well-suited for the awards season kickoff -- is what led Hollywood to begin premiering major, star-studded titles there more than a decade ago. In 2004, when the Academy Awards were moved up one month to late February or early March, that increased the importance of Toronto as a launching pad for films with Oscar aspirations. Not every Oscar contender plays at Toronto, but the festival is so important that if a fall release doesn't play there, its omission raises questions.
This year, The Hollywood Reporter has named 10 Oscar contenders that will play at Toronto, including: Albert Nobbs, starring a cross-dressing Glenn Close in 19th century Ireland; David Cronenberg's A Dangerous Method, a period drama with Viggo Mortensen as Freud, Michael Fassbender as Jung, and Keira Knightley as "a troubled beauty"; Alexander Payne's The Descendants stars George Clooney as a father who must bond with his daughters; Moneyball, an inside baseball tale starring Brad Pitt; Jonathan Levine's cancer comedy 50/50, with Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Seth Rogen; and We Need to Talk About Kevin, a divisive drama featuring Tilda Swinton as the mother of a teenage boy who goes on a school shooting spree.
Beyond the Oscar contenders, dozens of other independent and foreign-language films hope to score with audiences and secure distribution deals. Seven years ago, Crash debuted there without a distributor, met with widespread acclaim, got picked up for distribution, earned nearly $100 million worldwide, and eventually won the Academy Award for Best Picture.
Stories like that are one reason that film critics, industry professionals, and movie lovers in general are drawn to Toronto. With so many films screening, the challenge is to emerge with a handful of gems, movies that will (hopefully) stand the test of time, and tell everyone about them.
Movies.com will be covering TIFF, telling you about the stand-outs and the disappointments, as well as provide an advance look at many of the movies that will be filling multiplexes and art houses this fall.
Telluride Film Festival
Who: Open to the public, but due to its location and associated transportation and lodging costs, the festival draws only the most dedicated (and appropriately-funded) film lovers. Members of the press must pay as much as everyone else. Passes range from $390 to $3900, with the most popular pass priced at $780 -- first-come, first seated.
What: Founded in 1974, the festival has always had the tradition of honoring "forgotten films and gifted filmmakers," Held over a long holiday weekend, the program is limited to approximately 15 shorts and 20 feature films. Most of the festival venues are converted from their usual usage -- a high school auditorium, a middle school gym -- into theaters for the duration of the weekend.
When: September 2-5
Where: Telluride, Colorado, a small town (population: just over 2,200 people) located in the San Juan Mountains, nestled in the southwest corner of the state,
Why: The festival was the first to show Michael Moore's Roger and Me, Sling Blade, The Crying Game, El Mariachi, Lost in Translation, and many more. The King's Speech debuted there last year, eventually winning the Academy Award for Best Picture.
Unlike other festivals, the program is not officially unveiled in advance, though rumors always run rampant in the weeks leading up to it. Over the years, however, the programming has been so consistently high-quality that hundreds of people are happy to shell out the big bucks to attend, confident that the films will be worth watching and that the scenery and the company will be worth the time and trouble.
Because the festival attracts a very high percentage of film critics and industry professionals, any film that cuts the mustard there will build positive buzz that carries over into Toronto, starting just a few days later. Likewise, a film that disappoints will lose any awards season traction it might have hoped to gain, making it an uphill battle that can only be overturned by overwhelming positive reaction at Toronto. Films are not made or broken solely by Telluride, but their future course can definitely be set.
By all accounts, the Telluride Film Festival is a magical experience that rewards all who are able to attend, with filmmakers freely mingling with industry, press, and the public in beautiful surroundings.
Venice International Film Festival
Who: Most screenings are open to the public. More than 3,000 members of the press attend, along with more than 6,000 industry professionals. Total attendance is more than 50,000.
What: The international competition showcases 22 word premieres, many with red-carpet gala screenings and multiple celebrity appearances. More than 150 films are shown each year. The festival is also known for its retrospective section, this year featuring a tribute to Nicholas Ray and a section on Italian experimental cinema of the 60s and 70s.
Where: Venice, Italy
When: August 31-September 10
Why: The festival launches the fall movie season in Europe with high-profile titles such as Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, which will not be playing at Toronto, set to premiere. Other films, like A Dangerous Method (also at Toronto and the New York Film Festival in October), are looking to build momentum. Because Venice comes first in the calendar, a film and its stars can make a splashy premiere for Europe, then jet to Toronto for wider exposure. For example, George Clooney's The Ides of March, in which the actor also stars, plays first in Venice, and then heads to Canada.
Though a good number of titles overlap between Venice and Toronto, some do not, and even those that will be playing both events have a chance at making a deeper impression in the less-crowded atmosphere of Venice. Chances are, if a film gains good buzz from Venice and Telluride, it will raise its profile even higher when it arrives in Toronto. Thus, Venice may have less direct affect on what we see in North American theaters, but it plays an important role in the fall festival season.