Toronto: Festival Artistic Director Talks Netflix, Oscar Contenders

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As the presence of streaming services' movies at film festivals has generated controversy, Cameron Bailey expresses his support for Netflix, which had eight movies at TIFF 2018.

Toronto artistic director Cameron Bailey is not only impressed with the record eight films Netflix brought to his festival's 43rd edition, including the first night opener Outlaw King, but he also likes the streamer's business model that allows auteur directors to make big-budget films.

"These are filmmakers who want to make films their way. They have original visions, they aren't making formula movies at all," Bailey told The Hollywood Reporter on Thursday as the Toronto Film Festival heads towards its final weekend.

"And those are hard films to finance, especially in an increasingly risk-averse industry. So it's great that Netflix and Amazon and other streaming services are going after these filmmakers and giving them the money they need to make their movies," he added.

After the industry feud between Netflix and Cannes, and the public protests of Italian exhibitors and producers in Venice, a more welcoming Toronto saw only behind-the-scenes grumblings about the streaming giants' films here, including from major sponsors.

"This a fast-moving situation. The landscape of the film industry is changing. The landscape of viewers' behavior is changing," Bailey said of Netflix and Amazon getting into the film festival business, which includes competing against traditional distributors for acquisition titles at major markets like Toronto.

The TIFF exec pointed to a bigger screen and a state-of-the-art sound system installed this year in Roy Thomson Hall as evidence of Toronto's continuing fidelity to the big screen movie experience. "And sometimes the people who bring us movies are delivering them to people in their homes, or on their mobile devices. And that's OK, so long as we never lose that habit of going out to see the movies together, and I don't think we will," Bailey said.

He would not share his thoughts, however, on how long Netflix should play its movies in theaters — whether they should do short runs for award season eligibility or up to 90 days to protect the traditional theatrical window.

"We at TIFF don't have a stake in the length of a run of a theatrical film from a streaming service. We want people to see them in movie theaters. We will do everything we can to help that, because when they're great films, it's a great way to see them," Bailey said. He pointed to Bong Joon-ho’s Okja, a Netflix title that last year played on screens at TIFF's Bell Lightbox complex.

"Audiences came out to see on the big screen a film they could also see at home," Bailey recalled. "For us, it's not either/or," he added.

In a series of firsts for Netflix, the streamer saw one of its titles, Outlaw King, launch Toronto this year to mark the first time one of its films opened a major film festival. And Oscar-winning director Alfonso Cuaron saw his latest film, ROMA, earn the Golden Lion in Venice, bringing Netflix its first main competition victory.

Bailey said ROMA is the kind of movie that is well served by viewing on big and small screens. "ROMA is a remarkable film because the images are so rich and so detailed, you do get a unique experience watching it on the big screen. But it's also because the images are so rich and detailed, it's a film I'll want to watch multiple times and some of those times will certainly be at home," he argued.

Looking ahead to Sunday, when TIFF hands out its awards, including the main People's Choice prize, Bailey said he'd prefer if the big winner is a film that debuted in Toronto. "That's always a nice plus, but we follow the audience when it comes to the People's Choice Award. We'll see how they vote," he explained.

TIFF's audience award winner has traditionally been a precursor to Oscar glory, making Toronto a major awards-season launch pad for Hollywood. But in recent years, TIFF has been upstaged by Venice, after films like Gravity, Spotlight, La La Land and last year, The Shape of Water, got first looks at the annual Lido event, before shifting to Toronto and eventually having Oscar success.

Bailey pointed to TIFF titles that have generated strong audience buzz this year, many of which debuted at Venice or Telluride. Those include Cuaron's ROMA, Barry Jenkins' If Beale Street Could Talk, Tom Harper's Wild Rose, Steve McQueen's Widows, George Tillman Jr.'s The Hate U Give, Bradley Cooper's A Star is Born, Damien Chazelle's First Man and Peter Farrelly's Green Book.

"There's a lot of them. I don't know where the votes will land in the end, but what I've seen is audiences excited by a lot of movies this year," Bailey said.