Back in January, TIFF artistic director Cameron Bailey laid down the new law, that his festival would only play World or North American Premieres in the first four days of the festival. He told Indiewire “‘World premiere’ means the first public screening of the film anywhere in the world. ‘North American premiere’ means the first public screening anywhere in Canada, the United States or Mexico.” This effectively closes the loophole that Telluride has been exploiting, or at least it means that TIFF is no longer going to look the other way. I don’t blame him. Premieres are a big deal and TIFF has slowly and steadily become the most important festival in the world, at least for major studio releases, Oscar fodder, and world cinema. Honestly, they can do what they want and the rest of the world has to sort of go along with it. But their announcement this week has had a funny side effect. As films are listed as World, North American, or International Premiere, it’s going to become possible for the first time ever to know what Telluride is going to play (or not play).
Anthoine Fugua’s THE EQUALIZER? That’s a TIFF World Premiere, so it’s not playing Telluride. THE IMITATION GAME starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Enigma-Code-Breaking mathematician Alan Turing? It’s an International Premiere. And it’s listed as a UK/USA co-production. So that’s probably playing Telluride, and will probably not be playing TIFF on the opening weekend. A few of the films in the announcement have already played either Sundance (WHIPLASH) or Cannes (FOXCATCHER) so they are making Canadian Premieres. But there are something like 51 films on this list which are definitively not playing Telluride. Also not playing Telluride are the trio of films slated to World Premiere at New York: David Fincher’s GONE GIRL, Paul Thomas Anderson’s INHERENT VICE, and Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu’s BIRDMAN. There are still a lot of great films that don’t have an announced premiere yet (Anton Corbijn’s LIFE, Werner Herzog’s QUEEN OF THE DESERT, Angelina Jolie‘s UNBROKEN, Stephen Daldry’s TRASH, and Tim Burton’s BIG EYES) but I suspect that when they are announced as Canadian or International Premieres at TIFF in the coming weeks, we’ll be able to put the Telluride schedule together a good 4-5 weeks before the festival, something never before possible. Will it still be a great festival? Of course. But a little of the mystery will be gone.
And how about the films that were announced? There are a lot of exciting possibilities on the schedule. A few of them will get releases in the US shortly after the fest, but many we will have to wait until the December awards season or even longer after to see. Back when I programmed for Austin Film Festival, snagging high profile TIFF films to play in Austin in October was a primary directive – not as much for me as for the other programmer (I was focused on the film competition and the indies and world premieres). However, because of this, it’s sort of impossible for me to look at these films without at least considering how they might play Austin in a festival setting, whether its AFF, Fantastic Fest, Austin Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, or some idealized festival of my mind. With that in mind, here’s a ten highlights from TIFF first announcement that might just end up in Austin.
/Jason Reitman – Men, Women and Children follows the story of a group of high school teenagers and their parents as they attempt to navigate the many ways the internet has changed their relationships, their communication, their self-image, and their love lives. Starring Jennifer Garner, Adam Sandler and Judy Greer. – I’d bet the house on this one. I’m pretty sure if Reitman filmed his family trip to Delaware, AFF would play it – I’m also sure it would be great, because that’s who he is. Plus it was shot in Austin.
/Alan Rickman – A landscape gardener with a taste for the unconventional is invited to design one of the fountains at the Palace of Versailles. As she battles with the weather, the perilous rivalries at the court of Louis XIV and her own private demons, she finds herself drawn closer to the formality and enigma of the architect who hired her. Starring Kate Winslet, Stanley Tucci, Alan Rickman and Matthias Schoenaerts. – This film would be great in a classic theatre like the Paramount and would draw in that ‘coveted’ 45-65 and 65+ demographic that tends to stay away from film festivals and downtown. Plus it’ll have amazing costumes.
/Jean-Baptiste Leonetti — Ben, a young man who works as a hunting guide, gets a job of a lifetime when he is hired by Madec, a wealthy businessman from Los Angeles, to hunt a bighorn sheep. Their excursion in the Southwestern desert quickly goes from bad to worse when overly-eager Madec gets trigger happy, accidentally killing an old prospector. He attempts to bribe Ben for his secrecy, but Ben staunchly refuses. Outraged, Madec turns on Ben, determined to eliminate the only witness to his crime. Trapped in a sadistic cat-and-mouse game, Ben has to rely on his basic survival skills to make it out alive. Starring Michael Douglas, Jeremy Irvine, Hannah Mangan, Lawrence and Ronny Cox. – This sounds like a great Michael Douglas star vehicle and a nice selection for Fantastic Fest. Not getting the fantastic vibe from these announcements? Wait til TIFF announces their Midnight Madness picks – many of which will appeal to the Drafthouse crowd. But THE REACH feels a bit like a bigger budget BLUE RUIN (at least in mood) which played Fantastic last year before being picked up by Drafthouse Films.
/Richard LaGravenese – In this adaptation of the hit Broadway musical, The Last Five Years is a musical deconstruction of a love affair and a marriage taking place over a five year period. Jamie, a young, talented up-and-coming Jewish novelist falls in love with Cathy, a Shiksa Goddess and struggling actress. The film, told almost entirely through song and a beautiful pop music score, portrays an honest, heartbreaking, often funny, exploration of love and its consequences on individual identity. Starring Anna Kendrick and Jeremy Jordan. – This is another one that looks a lot more obvious than it is. LaGravenese is another past AFF awardee but they’ve never been too keen on musicals over there … or maybe I’m just saying that so they’ll prove me wrong. What a wonderful Catch-22. Kendrick would certainly fill the Paramount. You could also do a 1-2 punch with Angelina Jolie’s UNBROKEN which LaGravenese also wrote. Of course, I wouldn’t be surprised if this holds off, plays Sundance then SXSW and makes a spring debut on the US screen.
/James Marsh – The extraordinary true story of one of the world’s greatest living minds, Stephen Hawking, who falls deeply in love with fellow Cambridge student Jane Wilde. Hawking receives an earth-shattering diagnosis at age 21. Together, Stephen and Jane defy impossible odds, breaking new ground in medicine and science. Starring Eddie Redmayne, Felicity Jones, David Thewlis and Emily Watson. – This is another AFF style film but probably not one that would have any talent coming in with it. Still, this would be a good draw in Austin, location of one of the premiere research universities in the country. Marsh’s SHADOW DANCER played AFF in 2012.
And then there is WHIPLASH, one of my favorites from Sundance, which will get its US theatrical release on October 10th. Don’t miss it. The Farmer’s Insurance guy totally picks on that drunk from THE SPECTACULAR NOW.