Toronto: Festival Head Holding Firm on Telluride Premiere Policy

Piers Handling at Podium - P 2012
Getty Images

Piers Handling at Podium - P 2012

Piers Handling defended his strategy to discourage distributors taking Oscar contenders to Telluride

Toronto Film Festival CEO Piers Handling voiced strong support on Sunday for his controversial Telluride premiere policy, telling industry players to extend their stay next year.

"People will absolutely adjust when they see the lineup of films and what's coming and what Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday looks like," Handling told The Hollywood Reporter as he looked ahead to the 2015 edition. At an awards luncheon closing out the 2014 festival, Handling said film buyers and the media prepared for a front-end loaded event this year, and will embrace a stretched-out film schedule next year.

"They will still come at the beginning of the festival, they have to, and they may still be here for an extra couple days," he predicted. This year's top audience award winner, Morten Tyldum's Benedict Cumberbatch-starrer The Imitation Game, screened in the festival's second half, on Tuesday, after debuting in Telluride.

But the other two audience award winners — Beats of the Antonov, directed by Hajooj Kuka, and What Do We Do in the Shadows, by directors Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement — had world premieres in Toronto. "This goes to show the policy didn't make a significant difference, and certainly made a difference for some of the films," Handling said.

Besides The Imitation Game, a host of other films had distributors debuting in Telluride, including Jean-Marc Vallee's Wild and Jon Stewart's directorial debut, Rosewater, before later screening dates in Toronto. That axis of convenience, which allows movies to build buzz in Venice or Telluride before arriving in Toronto, runs counter to the Canadian festival insisting on world premieres only for its opening weekend to defend its reputation as the official award season launchpad.

But Toronto organizers welcomed programming high-profile titles in the second half of the festival. If anything, Handling saw irony in film buyers talking about a muted opening weekend this year after earlier complaining about the first four days in Toronto being too frenzied.

"They said in the past the festival was too front-end loaded, and can't we stretch it out a little more. It's just too much, we're missing films," he recalled. Toronto fest artistic director Cameron Bailey added he didn't see the Telluride premiere policy hurting the informal film sales market this year.

Bailey pointed to Paramount buying the worldwide rights to Chris Rock's new comedy Top Five for a reported $12.5 million after a first-weekend premiere. "We had the biggest sale that had ever happened in the history of this festival, and it all happened from a film that played on Saturday night," he said.

"The festival proved that our premiere policy worked. There's no advantage or disadvantage to the scheduling. We were able to program a really strong festival," Bailey added. Both Bailey and Handling said it was too early to decide whether the Telluride premiere policy will be tweaked, but that they will consult the industry ahead of next year's event.