Toronto abandons 'world premiere' screenings


Toronto International Film Festival is fed up. Tired of fighting it out with rival festivals for new films in a crowded summer calendar, the fall event is taking the bold step of getting out of the premiere business altogether.

"Our feeling is the language around the whole premiere game has become so clouded as to make them meaningless," festival co-director Noah Cowan said in late June when announcing the new programming policy.

Indeed, with major festivals like Cannes, Sundance and Berlin insisting on placing world premieres into their lineups, Toronto programrs have become increasingly frustrated with determining whether their films are world, North American, international or Canadian premieres.

Likewise, films previously booked into Toronto for a "world premiere" often bowed at Telluride and other regional festivals through "preview" or "special" screenings for the press and industry. Ditto for major studios that each September bring a host of fall releases to Toronto for their "world premieres," when in reality the films have already been shown in a host of preview screenings.

As a result, Cowan wants his team of programrs to choose the best in world cinema and showcase that lineup to local audiences -- rather than get tangled up in a world-premiere-or-nothing struggle with rival festivals for titles.

"We like to give a snapshot of important trends in world cinema," he argues. "We can't be too hung up on premieres."

After expressing initial confusion or ignorance over Toronto's new premiere policy, filmmakers and producers are applauding the festival for not penalizing movies that begin their lives at other events.

"Whether they say it or not, we came out and announced it was a world premiere," says David Miller, a producer on Richie Mehta's Toronto entry, "Amal." "We're happy to tell people, because it is."

Miller adds that "Amal" and any films he produces in the future are now better positioned to compete for slots at other festivals because they are no longer compelled to bring a world premiere to Toronto.

"If anything, (Toronto is) giving you an opportunity to be prepared if another opportunity comes up," he says.