Toronto Film Fest to Shrink Movie Lineup by 20 Percent

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Cameron Bailey

"We've certainly been listening to those who told us ... it's hard to navigate the festival," artistic director Cameron Bailey tells THR.

The sprawling Toronto Film Festival knows it has an annoying problem: It's gotten too big for its own good.

And that's overwhelming film buyers and sellers, publicists, journalists and some among the 400,000 ordinary filmgoers that attend the annual September event. So fest organizers plan to take the high road and cut the 2017 lineup by 20 percent, or around 60 movies.

The hope is an event that aims at satisfying many masters, including Hollywood studios and an informal film sales market, becomes less cluttered and more easily curated. "We've certainly been listening to those who told us, on a professional level, it's hard to navigate the festival," Cameron Bailey, artistic director of TIFF, told The Hollywood Reporter.

"We want to make it a little easier for the media to find films, for the industry to do their work and for the business that happens at the festival to take place," he added. A leaner lineup also aims to allow Toronto more room for new film voices and discovery beyond the red carpet mania and glitzy parties.

The "tighter curation" Bailey promises eyes a balance between red carpet Hollywood movies the media and ordinary audiences demand to see, indie films that are harder to discover and foreign-language titles from international markets with little distribution and marketing pull.

Expect fewer big-name titles in Toronto's Special Presentations sidebar, where world premieres nabbed away from Telluride or Venice and which didn't make it to Roy Thomson Hall can launch at the Princess of Wales, Elgin, Ryerson or Winter Garden theaters.

A leaner TIFF will shed its Vanguard and City to City sections to retain in all 14 programmes, and no longer screen movies at the Isabel Bader and Hot Docs cinemas to better concentrate the festival downtown around its year-round Bell Lightbox venue.

Toronto is also taking note of Oscar picture winners increasingly launching in Venice and Telluride, where breakout movies are quickly talked about on social media, leaving Toronto as less of the great discoverer it once was. TIFF's traditional axis of convenience, which allows studio and other star-driven American movies to build buzz in Venice or Telluride before arriving here, in recent years has undermined its reputation as the official award season launchpad.

It's not lost on TIFF programmers that recent Oscar picture winners like Gravity, Birdman and Spotlight world premiered on the Lido, as did this year's Oscar frontrunner, La La Land. So TIFF now boasts having the most must-see movies and red-carpet moments for its industry and public audiences, rather than the first crack at seeing Oscar best picture contenders as a key selling point.

"Toronto is still the place that shows more award season contenders first, than anywhere else on the planet, so that's still important for us, and we're still wanting to make sure we have the year's strongest films for our audiences," Bailey said. "Some will have come days before from other festivals, some will premiere here," he added.

Rethinking TIFF's size also recognizes most star-driven titles arrive here each September already with U.S. deals attached, having been bought up in Cannes or Sundance, so film buyers already have fewer pickings. Film buyers privately say they can attend an industry screening, but often prefer to see how a movie plays in front of real people.

So if ordinary filmgoers can't get into sold-out theaters, especially during the event's crowded first weekend, producers or publicists are left questioning the value of bringing acquisition titles to Toronto. "Our public audiences never had a problem with the wealth of choice we have — they like having lots of choices — but it's sometimes hard for movies to stand out in the way we would like them to," Bailey conceded.

However much it's slimming down, TIFF still wants to be all flavors to all people. "That's the gig. We are constantly taking on the challenge to offer the many different audiences that come to our festival films that we think they will want to see, that will excite them," Bailey said.

"And whether that's a Toronto resident that wants to see something new, or a longtime patron that has their plan to see 20 or 30 films, or someone who's coming to buy movies or someone coming to cover movies, those are a little different stakeholders. We have a team that's charged with ensuring they get what they want," he added.