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The Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) opened Thursday night at Roy Thomson Hall with a gala screening of Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and The Band. And in the age of Netflix and Amazon, the Canadian documentary about Robbie Robertson and fellow members of one of the most influential bands of its era became the focus of the industry’s escalating streaming wars.
“If you don’t all have subscriptions to Crave, you should go out and get one this evening, it’s very important,” the film’s director, Daniel Roher, said onstage after thanking Canadian broadcaster Bell Media and its Crave streamer for being an early backer of his movie.
Netflix, Amazon and Crave have increasingly battled to sign up Canadian subscribers as consumers here increasingly view movies and TV shows on their TV sets, tablets or smartphones.
TIFF co-head Cameron Bailey earlier told the Roy Thomson Hall audience the opening-night film was in parts a “surprise” for the festival, as Roher had not been well known to his event and Toronto had never chosen to open with a Canadian documentary.
“But it is the perfect story,” Bailey added. Once Were Brothers also fit the bill as TIFF’s opener after its 2018 edition launched with David Mackenzie’s Outlaw King from Netflix. That opening-night choice raised objections from Bell Media, a major sponsor of the Toronto festival and operator of Crave.
Gillian Berrie, who produced the Scotland-shot Outlaw King, at last year’s opening night in Toronto lauded Netflix for nabbing the movie for its worldwide subscribers. “Thank you to Netflix, who have supported us and been wonderful partners,” Berrie told the Roy Thomson Hall audience a year ago.
The world premiere for Outlaw King marked the first time a major film festival had ever opened with a movie not slated for a major theatrical release. So Bailey this year took care on opening night 2019 to give a shoutout to Bell Media, which will premiere the movie on Crave after its TIFF bow.
“This is also a film that represents an ongoing partnership with Bell Media and the Crave brand, and it’s one of a number of Crave films in the festival and we hope to see many more in the years to come,” Bailey said of the Robbie Robertson documentary.
Magnolia Pictures has nabbed the worldwide rights to Once Were Brothers outside of Canada, and plans a U.S. theatrical release in 2020. The screening of Once Were Brothers was to be followed by Robertson and longtime collaborator Martin Scorsese coming onstage at Roy Thomson Hall to announce plans for a screening of The Last Waltz, the 1976 concert film about the Canadian-American rock band that Scorsese directed.
The Toronto Film Festival will continue through Sept. 15.
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