Toronto Unveils New Juried Competition for International Films

AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Frank Gunn

The inaugural Platform category will complement the coveted People's Choice Award, voted on by festgoers and considered an awards season barometer.

The Toronto Film Festival on Thursday took a small step towards becoming a competitive event.

Toronto unveiled a new program, Platform, that will see a three-person jury judge up to 12 films "of high artistic merit" by international directors, starting with the 40th edition in September. Coming with a $25,000 cash prize, the inaugural Platform section will complement the festival's top prize, the People's Choice Award, which is voted on by fest-going ticket holders and includes previous winners like Precious, Slumdog Millionaire, 12 Years a Slave and last year's The Imitation Game.

Toronto also hands out three juried awards for homegrown Canadian films and has a FIPRESCI jury choose the best film from the Special Presentations and Discovery sidebars. But festival director and CEO Piers Handling, who has long branded Toronto as a non-competitive event, insists Platform represents no change of course.

"We're pretty insistent that we're not going to turn into a Cannes or a Venice or a Berlin in the sense of a very organized competition every year," he told The Hollywood Reporter. Instead, Toronto is putting an extra spotlight on international auteur films with Platform, whose entries are expected to include foreign-language titles coming into September event without distribution or big-name stars.

Handling added Toronto, with Platform, is returning to its roots as an international film festival with the glitz and glamor of Hollywood stars, but also a renewed focus on foreign-language, auteur-driven titles. "If we have to pull an award out of the bag to put that extra spotlight on quality cinema, so be it," he said.

The inaugural Platform category also aims to help Toronto maintain its profile with international filmmakers amid stepped-up competition from Telluride and Venice. Fest organizers have long insisted the award season focus encouraged by the People's Choice Award has never been their main aim, as they also look to bring the best of world cinema to their lineup.

The jury and film lineup for Platform will be announced in the coming months. The 40th Toronto Film Festival is set to run from Sept. 10-20, 2015.

May 21, 2015 1:45 p.m. Updated with comments by Piers Handling, director and CEO of the Toronto Film Festival.

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