Aug 26, 2011

On TIFF and other film festival experiences

A few days ago, Nathaniel (from The Film Experience) wrote an article about some of the TIFF films he's looking forward to. Looking at those titles, I noticed some overlaps with the films I've put on my to-watch list at the fest, and commented on the link that:

"I never understand why films like last year's Black Swan or this year's bound to be sold-out The Descendant are SO popular at TIFF. Like, I know, it's nice to watch it before everyone else, but there are more than 200 titles and AT LEAST 100 of them never open in theatres outside the festival circuit. I can always wait a couple more months for something instead of missing out on other films."

This is essentially how I've felt for the past five years that I've been attending the festival. The aforementioned Black Swan opened on December 3rd, a mere three months after its release in the festival, yet, its screenings at TIFF were packed. By comparison, a film like A Screming Man (which was both enjoyable and profound) has not been released in the theatres yet and will likely never be. That's not even one of the smallest films at the festival. It was an award winner at Cannes 2010. There are much less publicized films in the Midnight Madness section (dedicated to horror films) or City to City (introducing films from one particular city every year, this year it's Buenos Aires) that will never see the light of day once TIFF is over. 

Anyway, one particular reader of The Film Experience (Roark) replied to my question and I think the answer was spot-on, so I decided to repost it here:

"Just my own experience, but it seems like festivals, especially big ones like TIFF, are just microcosms of the moviegoing world at large, which means that if there's a choice between a George Clooney movie or, say, the new Pen Ek Ratanruang film, you're probably going to get more people coming out for the Clooney film. Plus, like you say, people like to feel like they're part of something before everyone else, like they're discovering it for themselves, and it's *their* support that is launching the film to its greater success - even if the only reason they feel like they're part of something is thanks to a concerted media campaign to convince them that there's something to be a part of!
On the other hand, by being so mainstream friendly and drawing folks in with the Clooneys and Black Swans of the world, they probably get more accidental viewings of the Ratanruang than another fest that caters solely to a niche (which is what NYFF does) would."

That's only 100% true. Whether films like Ides of March, The Descandants or A Dangerous Method succeed or not, no credit can really be given to the audience who bought into the hype that the media created around these films. Of course, I'm being a hypocrite myself (but only slightly) since the top two films on my list are A Separation and Shame, both of which have found huge publicity in the form of a Berlin Golden Bear win for the former and Hunger reunion and exhibitionist sex scenes (pictured right) for the latter. But I'm gonna cut myself some slack on these two films since they've topped my Most Anticipated of 2011 list the whole year.

Anyway, head over to The Film Experience and read Nathaniel's write-up. If you're attending the festival, he has some really good suggestions.


  1. Speaking for myself - I'll choose higher profile films for the experience too. Case in point, getting to see FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION with the *entire* gang of Christopher Guest regulars on-hand afterward answering the audience's questions and entertaining us all. Or listening to Julie Taymor give a really fascinating talk afterwards on the process of filmin ACROSS THE UNIVERSE.

    Beyond that, some films I've chosen because I want to see them with an appreciative audience, not one that's going to restlessly whisper, come in and out of the cinema, and start fussing with their phones.

    Hell, petty as it sounds - there's times where I'm influenced by the venue.

    It's not as simple as calling it a "microcosm of the movie world at large". People have their own reasons for choosing what they choose.

  2. Ryan, I understand your point.
    I wasn't trying to be disrespectful to people who go the Gala's. (I'm sure Roark wasn't either.)
    As someone who works for TIFF every year, I know the thrill of being part of a big gala.
    And as I said, I do the same thing too sometimes. I watched The Illusionist last year at a gala.
    There's nothing wrong with watching bigger movies. The part that strikes me is that smaller movies don't get enough reception.
    If a film can manage to bring in huge numbers of people, then all the power to it. But again, it's surprising to see lukewarm response to films that only screen during the festival and never else.

  3. No disrespect felt here - we're all good!

    It can only really be explained with the "diff'rent strokes" defense. The flip side to what you're describing is films that set a festival like TIFF on fire only to fade into oblivion in the collective conscious.