Toronto Defends Choosing 'Looper' Over a Canadian Film to Launch Festival

2:09 PM PST 07/24/2012 by Etan Vlessing

Piers Handling: "I think for your opening night film you want a film that actually commands the screen, a film that is entertaining, that people really enjoy and get their heads into the rest of the festival."

TORONTO – Toronto international Film Festival organizers on Tuesday defended their choice to launch their 37th edition with a Hollywood bang in Rian Johnson's Looper, rather than a lower-profile Canadian film.

“A couple of years ago we decided to change the policy of not necessarily having to open with a Canadian film,” TIFF director Piers Handling told the opening press conference in Toronto, as he signalled an apparent shift for the festival as Looper takes a straight line from Comicon to open TIFF on September 6.

“We were certainly looking around for Canadian films. For the last three years, I guess, we have actually opened with an international film,” he added, after Jon Amiel’s Creation and last year the U2 documentary From The Sky Down by American director Davis Guggenheim led the festival off.

Looper is original, its edgy, you cant take your eyes off it and I think it perfectly sets the tone for this year’s festival,” TIFF artistic director Cameron Bailey told journalists when asked why a Hollywood crowd-pleaser replaced a local Canadian title in the opening night slot.

“I think for your opening night film you want a film that actually commands the screen, a film that is entertaining, that people really enjoy and get their heads into the rest of the festival,” Handling added when defending their controversial programming choice.

Fest organizers also point to the choice of Looper as an attempt to surprise TIFF audiences, rather than follow tradition.

In addition, Canadian films are increasingly international co-productions that are strategic in how they position themselves domestically, and don't see the opening night slot as representing as big of an advantage as in former years.

So TIFF programmers are opting to choose their opening night films less on geography and more on critical and commerical impact.

Handling and Bailey also fended off suggestions TIFF has taken a sharp turn to Hollywood and international commercial releases, and overlooked arthouse fare, in its gala and Special Presentations selections.

Tuesday’s choices were only the beginning, Bailey insisted.

“These are just our galas and Special Presentations, so they are typically our biggest red-carpet films, featuring our biggest stars in the world,” Bailey said, before adding TIFF had booked galas at Roy Thomson Hall from six nations, including Denmark, China, Japan and Italy.

“I don’t think it marks any change at all to be honest, having gone through the program, and seen as many films as Cameron has,” Handling chimed in.

He pointed to films by auteurs like Lu Chuan and Marco Bellocchio, and other representatives of European, Asian cinema and Latin American cinema, whose work is already booked into Toronto. 

“We absolutely represent them at the festival. It will be a very diverse cross-section,” he added, looking ahead to additional programming announcements in the coming weeks.

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