Toronto taps social networking to build buzz

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To help its discovery pics capitalize on the festival buzz and connect with audiences beyond TIFF, Toronto is employing social media as a promotional tool.

"We're living in a Twitter world, and a Facebook world, and we're certainly immersed in those social media," festival co-director Cameron Bailey says of moving beyond traditional media to build word-of-mouth around the festival lineup.

"We'll be using them during the festival, urging audiences to respond to the films on Twitter and Facebook, and the festival will do its own commenting and sparking conversations through those media," he adds.

Indeed, a number of new technologies will be taken for a test drive this year. TIFF introduced Web site blogs by Bailey and fellow programmers, and will make unspecified use of social media during its Sept.10-19 run to spur feedback and discussion online among festival attendees, both before, during and after their theater screenings.

The initiative comes amid an explosion of online videos and social media sites, which have created an urgency to shape opinion on festival titles beyond traditional media.

At the same time, Bailey insists the festival is not embracing online word-of-mouth for novelty. Content being king, he sees social media cottoning onto the festival, tracking its films and audiences and creating a second wave of views after public and press screenings -- still Toronto's bread and butter.

"As much as the online experience becomes a reality in the next few years, the actual in-cinema experience, the 10 days and the physical experience of going out of your house and joining people and watching a film together and responding together, is going to be essential, always," Bailey argues.

Toronto is well aware of recent experiments like the SXSW film festival in Austin partnering with IFC Films to launch Joe Swanberg's "Alexander the Last" direct-to-VOD as it bowed at the festival.

But TIFF Group CEO Piers Handling insists Toronto is going slowly as festivals elsewhere go the way of direct-to-VOD, computer downloads and streaming. "This is premature, to be honest, and depends on the size and scale of the event you're involved with," he says.

A simultaneous direct-to-VOD and festival launch may make sense for smaller, niche festivals, but not an event like TIFF, whose films have more realistic hopes for theatrical release, Handling contends.

Other new media flirtations include the inaugural TIFF in Concert program, which features 13 short films available during the 10-day event via a new iPhone application.

The evolving mobile technology includes a GPS to steer film lovers to select Toronto landmarks, and automatically opens the film on arrival and directs viewers to additional content.

The new technology is especially useful for film buyers and sellers eager to connect with local audiences considered a good barometer for moviegoers at large.

"The Toronto festival is run by some people who really understand what the industry is," says Eric Lagesse, president of Pyramide Films, who will shop Bruno Dumont's "Hadewijch" and Catherine Corsini's "Partir." "This festival has developed itself in a clever way. It never pretends to be a market, but it is definitely where buyers and sellers can work the best they can. Everything is done for that."
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